1. Take the most challenging program you can handle and work hard at your grades. Colleges are interested in not only your grades but in whether you will be able to handle the advanced level of work.
2. Even if they are not required at the schools you’re applying to, take the standardized tests. If you do well, they could improve your overall profile and give you the edge in a borderline situation.
3. If you need recommendations, ask well in advance of the deadline and provide each person with properly addressed envelopes with the correct postage. Follow up on requests for recommendations to make sure they were completed.
4. Spend some time thinking about your essay(s). A good essay should give admission officers an idea of who you are as a person and what you can bring to their school's educational atmosphere. Plan to write several drafts before applications are due, and ask your counselor’s advice on how to fine tune it. Make your changes and have it ready to go before the deadlines approach.
5. Take a good look at the admission requirements for each school on your list and do your homework to find out what is most important to them. Adapt your admission materials to play to your strengths so that you match the school's image and profile.
6. Apply to at least three schools, giving yourself some options if your dream college doesn’t accept you. If you are interested in a highly competitive school, be realistic about your chances of getting accepted.
7. Allow your personality to come through in your application. Make sure it reflects who you are and showcases what you might add to their student body. If it has been your dream since birth to attend there, let them know it but don’t oversell your interest if it’s not there.
8. Fill out your applications completely, neatly and on time. Proofread them several times and ask a parent or friend to provide a final set of eyes. If you apply online, print a copy of your application before you press submit. Request transcripts, in writing, from the person at your high school responsible for transcript submissions (at many schools, this is the registrar) and follow up to make sure they are sent.
9. Talk to your parents and counselor one last time. Whether they are paying for it or not, you are going to need their support so make sure to include them in your decisions.
10. Above all, make sure to meet the deadlines as this is an early indication of how you will do if you are accepted at the college.