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How to Prep for College, Presented by IvyWise

IvyWise CEO and founder Dr. Kat Cohen shares sound advice for high schoolers on getting into college

It may seem intimidating to begin thinking about college as an incoming high school freshman, but preparations should start well before a student’s junior and senior years—especially when seeking entry into a top-tier institution. Just ask the pros at IvyWise—a leading educational consulting firm with a stellar track record for helping students gain admission into one or more of their top three choice schools.

“The earlier students come to us, the more we can implement with them and the more prepared they are,” says CEO and founder Dr. Kat Cohen. “Our sweet spot age is between 13 and 15 years old.” 

Given the highly competitive nature of “getting in” and the ever-changing landscape of college admissions, DuJour chatted with Cohen about how high school students can master it all—from standardized tests to personal essays—and stay ahead of the curve.  

On classes to enroll in:
Many high schools have a set curriculum where each student will need to take five core classes per year in science, English, social science, math and foreign language. Within that framework, students should determine what interests them most.

If students want to attend a selective college, make sure they are enrolling in the most advanced courses possible at their grade level. They should plan on taking Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and/or dual enrollment courses by their senior year.

On the best clubs and after-school activities to join:
There’s no right answer and no one-size-fits-all. Each student is different and has different interests and passions. My best piece of advice is to not follow the pack. Students can stand out by doing what really interests them! They should participate in activities they are passionate about, not “what looks good.” The most important thing is to show commitment and consistency to the activities and clubs they join.

On meeting with high school advisors:
It’s a good idea to check in with high school advisors regularly—just be sure students are scheduling appointments a couple weeks in advance, so their advisor can give them their undivided attention. Then, students should have a solid understanding of their academic credentials when they walk through the door, so they can have a productive conversation and make the most of their time. Even if everything is running smoothly, it’s a good idea for students to get comfortable with their advisors. It can be useful to have an administrator of this sort write a recommendation letter when it comes time to apply to colleges.

On preparing for standardized tests:
Most students do some kind of prep, whether they’re buying practice books, enrolling in a course or hiring a private tutor. I tell parents to get their students the best test prep they can afford. These tests are highly coachable. The more familiar students are with the test and the strategy, the better they will perform. 

On overcoming challenges during the college application process:
High school students experience an enormous amount of pressure when applying to colleges, and one of the biggest challenges is understanding how the admissions process works, especially since the process is constantly evolving. At IvyWise, we customize each program to the student’s needs and work to uncover their unique interests, values, learning styles and personal goals, so each student can convey the best and most accurate representation of who he or she is to colleges. Our team of counselors, who have years of experience working as admissions officers at top schools, are available to families 24/7 to offer unparalleled service and support—from reviewing personal essay statements to helping compile a balanced list of schools to apply to—they can help with every step of the process. We also have a great team of tutors who can help with standardized testing preparation and work in concert with the student’s counselor, which makes for a cohesive and seamless experience. Being as prepared as possible and having a strong support system can make all the difference.

On filling out a college application:
Students should spend as much time on the supplemental essays as the personal statement. A lot of students will spend months working on their personal statement and just mere minutes on the supplements, which is not a wise move. Students must show off different sides of who they are to admissions officers. Students should go into depth about something that is important to them and that motivates them in each part of the application—this is the student’s chance to show the admissions counselors who they are, and those are the applications that really jump off the page.