It’s not impossible to get into your top choice of schools, but it can be a challenge. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting into the best school. Remember that the earlier you start, the better your odds are.

Prepare Financially

If you’re hoping to get into a top school, you’ll need to be prepared to pay the tuition. Consider entering scholarship contests now. Do your research on grants, federal aid, and other methods of paying for school. Consider getting a job and start saving some money to pay for textbooks and living expenses. Once you are ready to attend school, you may need to take out private student loans since it’s unlikely that you’ll have enough in savings or financial aid to cover the cost. Private loans are a good way of making up the difference without draining your savings account.

Pay Attention to Your Application

Now is the time to enter essay competitions. Not only do they give you the chance of winning a scholarship, but they are good practice for college admissions essays. One tip to make your writing better is to answer the question out loud and record your response. Then transcribe your result to get a more passionate and vivid reply. That’s because many people speak faster than they type, and writing can interfere with your thought flow. You can go through and edit your answer later, so when you’re recording your answer tell a story and give specific examples.

Once you’re done with the admission essay and application, proofread it carefully. Let it sit for a few hours or days and come back to it with fresh eyes. Grammatical or spelling mistakes don’t give a good impression. Ask your teacher or parent to read it over. You can print it out, so it looks different than it did on the screen. It’s important to avoid relying on the tools built into your program since they often don’t catch every error.

Start Preparing in High School

Try to get good test scores and grades in high school. Having a good GPA is often what matters most to admissions teams. Your admissions test scores and strength of the high school curriculum are equally important. See if your school offers Advanced Placement (AP) tests and classes. AP courses offer college credit and scoring well on AP tests can boost your chances of getting into a quality college. Take practice tests and do extra classes to prepare for your admissions tests. Consider taking them multiple times to increase your chances of getting a good score.

While extracurriculars such as volunteering, hobbies, or sports can indicate your future contributions to the community, don’t dabble in many. Pick a couple you are passionate about to focus on. Schools want a well-rounded community, not necessarily well-rounded students. They’d rather have specialists than generalists, so don’t be afraid to cut out the extracurriculars you’re not as interested in. Consider joining clubs that reflect the field you’re interested in studying.