Some things on this list may seem pretty obvious, but hey—you never know! I also went ahead and covered a couple of bases, namely recommendations for the actual app and all the stuff you gotta do IRL to actually put on that thing. Have a tip I left out? Please share!
Show the school love:
Tour the campus.
Friend the university on Facebook.
Meet with admissions officers.
Follow up with questions.
Get to know the professors with whom you want to study. Ask to sit in on their classes!
If the college/university offers them…enroll in a summer course for high school students.
Research the school thoroughly and then talk—in your essay—about how much you like what you discovered.
Include supplemental materials that demonstrate your hobbies and passions.
Link to videos of performances, music clips, photography portfolios, or personal (and appropriate for viewing by a college admissions board) websites and blogs.
If possible, include newspaper clippings about your involvement in the community or your participation in a local (or national!) competitions.
Make sure the college accepts these supplemental materials!
Show the admissions team that you engage with and contribute to your community beyond the classroom.
Volunteer! Possible organizations to join: the Red Cross, Boy/Girl Scouts, Habitat for Humanity, local tutoring organizations—check out Volunteer Match to see what’s available in your area!
Participate in competitions within your particular area of interest, both academic, creative, and athletic.
Volunteer to work in your school’s front office.
Take part in a school fundraiser.
Demonstrate a deep commitment to and genuine appreciation for what you spend your time doing by starting your own club/organization/group.
Make sure your letters of rec are not just run-of-the-mill rave reviews. They need to be very specific in terms of description of your talent and ability. If it’s possible for someone to write a letter for you who has known you a shorter amount of time than other teachers, but who was your supervisor on a project that connects with your intended area of study—go with the latter.
Study hard. Prepare for SAT and ACT exams and retake them if you don’t do well on your first try.
Get a part-time job. Not only does this look good on a college app, it will allow you to put away money for books and tuition.