Applying to College – Part Three: Pre-application prep


This is part two of my “Applying to College” series! I hope that these help some of you in your college search and process. If you missed part one or two of this series, check them out here: my experience applying to college and finding the right school.

Note: I’m not an expert in any way, shape or form. My advice may not get you into your dream college – it’s just what worked for me!

test scores

There are two main college entrance tests in the US: the SAT and the ACT. To apply to most colleges, you have to take one or the other, or some combination. I took both, but only ended up using my ACT scores, because they were better than my SAT.

My recommendation: look at the schools you’re applying to. Some schools require SAT Subject Tests along with an SAT score, while some require only an SAT and an ACT. Some require an ACT with Writing. Some will let you sub the SAT Subject Tests for ACT with Writing. It’s all confusing and different, but look and see what you’ll need to apply. And then prepare for those.

If possible, get all of your standardized tests out of the way in your junior year. Senior year is beyond busy with college applications, school, and life in general, and the last thing you want to do is study for the SAT/ACT. So, get those study books and go after it.

On re-takes: From what I’ve learned, taking the tests more than two times isn’t worth it. Statistically, on the third try you’ll in fact do worse than on your first and second tries. My scores, for example, went down between my first and second try.

On tutors: I had an SAT tutor through my school, and they taught me so many things about how to take the tests. If your family can afford it, I’d definitely recommend getting a tutor to help you through the process. Otherwise, get some study books and force yourself to study on your own. You got this!

AP tests

Another common thing people think about pre-college is Advanced Placement testing. I took eight AP classes in high school (ouch), and I don’t regret taking them.

Personally, I get no “credit” at Barnard for any of my APs. I can place out of an entry-level class in government, but that’s it – I don’t get credit for that class. (Every college is different on what credits they’ll take, so it’s definitely something to look into.) So, even though I don’t get a lot of credits for my APs, I’m still happy I took the classes. Why? Because they challenged me. I had to work harder, study more, become a better writer and a better student.

If you can take APs, I would highly recommend you do. They’re worth it, even if you don’t take the AP tests (which are optional!) I didn’t report my AP scores to any of my colleges, and instead told them I’d taken the classes and the grades I got. So don’t stress yourself out on the AP Tests and beat yourself up if you don’t get all 5s. Colleges will still take you.


A big element of college applications is your recommendation letters. This is another element that is different at each school, so look into what your schools require ahead of time. Some require two core teachers, some don’t care, some want one math, one science, one humanities. When selecting your teachers, I strongly suggest picking teachers who know you in some way, if possible. I chose teachers who had led clubs I was involved in and knew me in and out of the classroom. If that’s not an option for you, pick teachers who you feel can talk about all the amazing qualities you have–not just the teachers in the hardest subjects that will “look the best.”

Give your teachers about two months do your letters – I asked my teachers in the beginning of September to write me letters for a November 1st deadline. Send them a resume so they know a bit more about you, and then send them a thank you note for writing you a recommendation. These things take time and imagine how many letters your teachers have to write. A lot.

 save some money

This sounds weird, but if you can, save some money for applications. It gets expensive fast and having some cash to pay for application fees, sending your SAT/ACT scores to colleges, etc. is a really great cushion to have.