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10 Things Students At Prestigious Universities Want You To Know


Asking for valid high school advice can be challenging especially when there are students telling you one thing and others telling you another. For example, when I was entering high school I asked multiple people for advice, and people kept telling me that your freshman year grades did not count. However, as I experienced high school I soon realized that if I wanted to go to a highly competitive school such as UC Berkeley for example, your grades from all of your years are looked at.
To prevent the amount of horrible advice such as the one I was given, I interviewed multiple Culver City High School graduates entering their second semester of their freshman year at prestigious universities such as Stanford, Harvard, UCLA, and Cornell; all who responded with the following advice they would give any student.

  • There is No Formula. When you take into account the small number of applicants who actually get accepted into schools such as Harvard and Stanford you wonder “What did they do?” or “How did they get in?” Well I spoke with current Stanford student Jonathan Cummings who explained that aside from earning acceptable grades, earning an ACT score of 34 and showing his interest in medicine by interning at a hospital, “there was no single thing that got me accepted into Stanford.” Similarly, Harvard student Oliver Berliner expressed that he found his calling of opera singing and committed to it, stayed at the top of his class rank, and interviewed with a Harvard alumni all “showing that [the] balance between your hobbies, school, and your main talent is very attractive to the admissions staff.”
  • Study for the ACT and/or SAT. This is very straightforward, but make sure to prioritize your time to study for these major tests whether it be utilizing the College & Career Center or purchasing the SAT College Board book to prepare. Both UCLA student, Brett Nava and Cornell student, Angela Uribe recommended to put aside a couple months for the ACT/SAT and hit the books.
  • Get Involved But Commit To Your Passion. One of the most common factors that all of the interview prospects had was their involvement in their interest for their later career path. For example, Angela Uribe knew she wanted to attend law school since her freshmen year of high school, so she explored her opportunities to confirm her interest through Mock Trial, founding a club called Legal Studies, Speech and Debate, ASB, Sophomore and Junior Class Council, legal courses over the summer at USC, Stanford, and Yale, and an internship at the LA County Public Defender’s Office and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in downtown Los Angeles. Another important point wanted to be made known was the commit to what you truly love to do instead of piling on random extracurriculars. Jonathan Cummings explains, “Commitment is important. I played [volleyball] for four years and my volunteering had a common theme. I was consistent with my extracurriculars.” Now, even though expressing interest in your passion is important, make sure to “excel in [your AP and honors classes] as well,” because grades are the most important factor in the process. Make sure to know your priorities and succeed at what you can handle.
  • Don’t Be Afraid To Stand Out In Your Application. Due to the fact that admissions staff read through thousands of applications in a short amount of time, have fun with your application! This is your time to shine so show your character whether it be through jokes or describing an event that shaped you and lead to a realization. College admissions want to figure out the type of student you would be on their campus and what you would bring to the table, so don’t be scared! Oliver Berliner decided to write his essay on his realization that in life you have to feel comfortable and relate emotionally with people who share the same interests. The event he experienced specifically included when, “a [friend’s] mother died the morning before we were going to open a show. We sat in a circle and cried for an hour, consoling the friend. Finally we decided the show must go on, and we performed that night.” Interestingly enough Oliver had played baseball for a multitude of years, “but if one of my teammate’s mothers had passed the morning of a game, you can bet there wasn’t that emotional connection as friends between the team to have that crying circle.” To prevent a wide spectrum of opinions, two to three people are recommended to read and revise your personal statement. Also, write the extra essays Ivy League applications set aside to show your creativity and charisma.
  • Take Advantage of All The Opportunities You Are Given. Culver City High School has so many clubs, course options, volunteer opportunities, and resources for you to explore so don’t let them go to waste! For example, Ms. Madrid in the College and Career Center always has opportunities whether you are interested in finding a job, interning at a work environment of your choice, or needing volunteer hours. If you love to write join the Creative Writing club or Journalism club! If you love to debate or just talk about politics join SOUP club or Speech and Debate! A great example of a student using our campus would be Oliver Berliner who utilized our AVPA program to sing classically for years. If you have an interest there is definitely something for you to take part in at school, and if not then create a new club!
  • Challenge Yourself Academically. If you want to compete for college then it is highly recommended to take as many AP or honors courses as you can handle to show the admissions staff that you can ace advanced level courses. Not only will this impress the admissions team, but you can also gain college credit if you earn a 4 or a 5 on the AP exam at the end of the year! This means if you take AP Spanish Language and Composition your junior year in high school for example, you do not need to take it in college because you would have already taken it! It is important to achieve a high accumulative GPA as well such as Angela Uribe’s which was a 4.3. To increase your GPA take rigorous courses such as AP Euro or Chemistry Honors to test your capabilities and strengths.
  • Work Hard Your Junior Year. As you may know, your Junior year is the most important and hardest year of your high school experience. Make sure to give it your all your Junior year so that when college applications come around it will be a breeze. You don’t want to retake courses online and scramble for volunteer hours, so really put in effort to get straight A’s. At the same time, don’t stress too much because even though this particular year will be difficult, you will know your priorities. To top it off, actually be interested in what you are learning and absorb it all. Brett Nava described how his favorite classes his junior year were, “AP United States History with Mr. Owens and AP Language and Composition with Ms. Cordell.” He explains that it is one thing to get through a course miserably just for an A, and it’s another if you are really interested in the material, because all in all “what you are learning [is] really some beautiful stuff.”
  • Set Your Priorities. I have experienced struggling to manage multiple things at first hand, and it’s truly not fun. Take on activities that you know you can succeed at but also take into account your school work. If you take on multiple things such as class counsel, soccer, basketball, youth group, link crew, a social life, and of course school you might not give each and every one your full focus. Recognize the things that need to be more focused on and those that need to be less focused on to really give those that need more attention more help. Also, keep a planner! Planners as well as writing everything down are very vital when setting your schedule because you can forget when assignments are due, when meetings are being held, and when events are taken place.
  • Start Your College Application Process At the End of Your Junior Year. It is always helpful to get a head start on whatever important assignment you are given. So start on the common application when it comes out that way you have the entire summer to revise and get some guidance!
  • Getting Into A Top School Is Like A First Date. Oliver Berliner amazingly paints the perfect picture of what the college application process is like when he says, “Getting into a top school is like a first date. It’s you and the person/people reading your application. Being a physically attractive person (having good grades) is a great place to start, but not having much more than your looks is a big turn off for those schools. So your resume has to be like all the stories you might tell on the first date, you have to show an interesting background. For the essays, they are the brains of the date. You can have the looks, and an interesting life, but if you don’t show that you can expand and develop upon your looks and experiences, the date won’t go very well. So when you’re writing your essay, it’s great to tell a story, something that happened to you that impacted you greatly. Then take that story and expand upon it. Tell the admissions team what that experience taught you, how it became part of your life’s philosophy. For a first date to succeed with a stunningly amazing partner, you’ve gotta be exceptional in all the important categories.”


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10 Things Students At Prestigious Universities Want You To Know