1. A rigorous high school curriculum that challenges the student and may include AP or IB classes
  2. High GPA in major subjects. However, slightly lower grades in a rigorous program are preferred to all A’s in less challenging coursework.
  3. High scores on ACT/SAT. These should be consistent with high school performance.
  4. A well-written essay that emphasizes insight into the student’s unique personality.
  5. Passionate involvement in a few activities that are meaningful inside or outside of school.
  6. Strong counselor/teacher recommendations that provide personalized references.
  7. Ability to pay. As state budgets tighten and the costs at colleges rise, some admission offices are increasingly favoring those students who can contribute to the school’s bottom line.
  8. Leadership inside or outside of school. Depth, rather than breadth, of leadership is valued.
  9. Demographic and personal characteristics that contribute to a diverse and interesting student body.
  10. Intellectual curiosity exhibited through reading, research, and extracurricular pursuits.
  11. Special talents that could contribute to campus life.
  12. Student’s character and values are seen as conducive to being a good community member.
  13. Demonstrated interest and enthusiasm in attending (through campus visits, attendance at high school visits.

Four-Year Timeline

Freshman Year

As a freshman, start thinking about what you want in a college.

Attend college fairs, talk to relatives and guidance counselors, look online. Realize that the courses you take and the grades you get all start to count now.

Start to think about your resume, and get involved in extracurriculars and volunteer activities. But don’t become a slave to your eventual resume. Do what you enjoy, not what you think will look good.

 Begin talking with your parents about finances and make sure you’re on the same page here. Look at what different colleges cost. Read up about student debt.

Sophomore Year

 Read widely, not only what you have to read for school, but for enjoyment. This will boost your vocabulary and influence your writing in a positive way. Be aware of what is happening in the world by reading the news. You can set up alerts from news outlets to keep you in the know. When it comes time to write your college application essays, you will have a lot of material to draw upon.

Take the PSAT seriously. Anne Arundel County pays for you to take it every year, and it will give you some valuable feedback with your results. When you take the PSAT as a junior, doing well on the test can translate into better access to colleges and even scholarship money.

Junior Year 

 This part is fun: Go college-tripping. By the summer after junior year, get a map of colleges and visit a handful at a time. Use the map to plan where to visit and where to stay. Drive, so you have a realistic idea of how far away from home these colleges are.

 Sign up online for campus visits so that you get a tour, and be sure the tour shows you the dormitories. If you can manage to visit campuses when classes are in session, that will give you the best sense of the school.

 Visiting colleges in person can help you narrow your search. Are you drawn to the big universities, or do you feel more comfortable in a smaller school? What’s too big? What’s too small? Do you like a campus that’s part of a city, or do you prefer a “college town”?

 Compare colleges through online sites or in books that you can annotate. U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Kiplinger, and Princeton Review all rate colleges and provide basic information about size, cost, and admissions.

 Get to know your counselor and let him or her get to know you. Think of which teachers might be willing to write recommendations for you. Make sure you understand how to use Naviance or whatever online platform your high school uses to facilitate college applications.

Summer Before Senior Year

Continue visiting and comparing colleges.

Go to and explore the website.

Discuss with your parents which schools you will apply to. It costs money to apply!

Contact Your College Essay Coach

Senior Year

Contact Your College Essay Coach ( or 410.353.5617). You can have a free one-hour consultation to decide whether or not to use the essay-coach services.

 If you don’t use the services of an essay coach, at least make sure to read your college application essays aloud and to have another person proofread them with you.




Helpful Hints