The New School Blues
Transferring schools is always stressful—especially when it comes time to apply to college:
I'm a junior in high school, and i just moved from a completely different state. My old school was private, and they were kind of poor so we didnt really have all of the resources and stuff that a public school could offer me. there were no extracurricular activities, no sports, no music, there just wasnt enough money for that there.
They also didn't have honors or AP courses or anything. Coming from there, I'm kind of clueless on how to get ready for college. I'd really like to go to University of Virginia or George Mason University. Can you give me a list of things that I can do to ensure that i get into a good college, even though I'm so behind in everything? I keep hearing that I have to take honors courses, and do tons of extracurriculars, and get killer SAT scores, but I'm still having trouble making friends at my new school! Plus, I'm worried about how to get letters of recommendation when NO ONE knows me. Can you please help me out? I'm desperate to get into a good university!
You're not alone: lots of students change high schools, and there’s no reason to think your private school experience will make or break your college application. What’s important is that you focus on the classes you are enrolled in now, and try to do your very best. If you are familiar with this blog, you probably know how I feel about Honors and AP classes (sign up for them!). It's okay that you didn't have a lot of options before. If you sign up for advanced classes at your new school, admissions officers will realize that you seized opportunities as soon as you were able to.
If you want to beef up your college application, an easy thing to do is seek out clubs and activities that really interest you—and get involved. I think this is a good way to make friends as well. If your academic record from private school is strong, don’t worry too much about the lack of extracurricular involvement, but now is your time to try to get involved in one or two clubs—and I don’t mean you should become any anonymous member of a group you could care less about. Try to join only those organizations to which you want to really contribute something. Also, consider taking on a leadership role if you have the time.
As far as the letters of recommendation goes, I touched on this topic last month. See my thoughts here. Basically, it’s fine to ask former teachers to recommend you—just make sure to do so well ahead of any deadlines, and be gracious. Also, there's a great chance you could get to know and like some of your new teachers. Make an effort to connect with the teachers at your school, and I'm sure they'll be more than happy to recommend you. They'll understand your new-school predicament—they've seen it a million times before.
It's wonderful that you're hoping to go to a great school. Do make sure that in addition to your top choices, you apply to at least one or two safety schools—schools that you are fairly certain you stand a good chance of being admitted into. Do some online research to get a sense of how your GPA and test scores measure up against those of students admitted to the schools you'd like to attend. Info on George Mason's freshman class can be found here. The University of Virginia is slightly more competitive; it's consistently ranked among the best in public universities in the country. You can see detailed information about UVA's freshmen class here.
You sound like an ambitious, motivated student and now is the time to buckle down and get your test scores and GPA as high as you can get them before submitting your applications.
To get in touch with Tasha, email firstname.lastname@example.org.