10 Best Strategies for Getting into the University of Your Choice

The university admissions process can be a daunting one to navigate.

Highly competitive courses and institutions can make applying for university or college highly pressurised, and staying positive during the admissions process can be increasingly difficult.

It’s essential to have a strong application that stands out for all the right reasons – it should be well-written, relevant, purposeful and compelling.

To help you get there, I’ve put together my top strategies for college admissions for you to use to increase your chances of getting accepted into the university of your choice.

So what are the best strategies for getting into the university of your choice?

To get into the university of your choice, pick courses that allow you to meet your goals, write a compelling personal statement, achieve excellent results and prepare fully for any tests or interviews. Attending open days and submitting your application early are also valuable strategies.

Let’s examine these college application tips in some more detail…

10 Best Strategies for Getting into the University of Your Choice

1. Choose the Right Course and University

Choosing the right university isn’t easy, but identifying the right course is the first step in the application process.

It’s essential to research and compare different institutions, subjects and faculties to find the best fit for you. This can involve looking at course content, teaching methods, location and university reputation.

In the UK, a well-informed and helpful site for research is whatuni.com. They offer a range of objective starting points for identifying the right course. Equally, theuniguide.co.uk is full of valuable content. For the US, topuniversities.com has a heap of excellent and relevant content for navigating the complex Common App system.

Additionally, it’s important to consider your interests and passions when choosing a course.

For instance, if you have a strong interest in environmental science, you may want to look for universities that offer courses in this field rather than just focusing on the university’s overall reputation.

According to Dr Helen Carasso, the Director of Admissions at the University of Oxford:

The key is to find the right course, not just the right university. You need to be passionate about your subject and genuinely interested in it.

This means that it’s essential to research the course content and structure to ensure that it aligns with your interests and goals. You may also want to consider reaching out to current students or alums of the course to get a better idea of the experience.

Overall, taking the time to carefully research and consider your options when choosing a course and university can help set you up for success in your academic and professional life.

2. Achieve Top Grades

Perhaps this one sounds obvious, but getting the grades you need to access the degree you want to study is critical, especially if you are looking at an undergraduate course.

As UCAS suggests:

Good grades are the foundation of a successful university application.

Results are an important component of the admissions process: they indicate your suitability for higher study and your commitment and capacity for a particular subject. They also demonstrate your transferable skills, which are critical in higher education and beyond.

If you’re struggling with your study skills, the Open University run a range of extremely helpful and easily accessible courses, and I would recommend giving them a try.

However, it is crucial to understand that good grades alone may not be sufficient to secure admission to top universities.

To stand out in a highly competitive field, exhibiting a deep passion for the subject is important.

This can be achieved by engaging in extracurricular activities and pursuing personal interests that align with the chosen field of study. Furthermore, universities look for well-rounded individuals who bring unique perspectives to their communities.

Consequently, presenting a well-rounded application showcasing your strengths and unique qualities is key.

After all, when it comes to how to get into your dream college, it’s helpful to approach the admissions process holistically and present a comprehensive application that highlights one’s potential for success.

You can read my article on how to write about your skills in a personal statement here or hit the image below for more information.

3. Write a Strong Personal Statement

The personal statement is a crucial component of your college application.

As the name suggests, it is a statement that is personal to you, and it offers you a chance to showcase your individuality. A well-crafted personal statement can set you apart from other applicants and help you secure admission to the college or university of your choice.

If you’re unsure why a personal statement is such an important aspect of a university application, check out my article analysing 9 compelling reasons why a personal statement is critical here or click on the link below.

When writing your personal statement, it’s important to remember that you’re essentially telling a story about yourself. You want to highlight your strengths and accomplishments and convey your passion for the subject you’re interested in studying.

This can be done by sharing anecdotes and personal experiences that have shaped your interest in the field.

According to Dr Sam Lucy, the Director of Admissions at the University of Cambridge:

A personal statement is a valuable tool for admissions officers to get to know you more personally. It’s important to use this opportunity to showcase your academic achievements, personality, and character.

So, take your time when crafting your personal statement. Brainstorm ideas, make an outline, and revise as necessary. By creating a strong and unique personal statement, you’ll have a better chance of standing out from the crowd and securing admission to your dream college.

Here’s an expert post that gives you more detailed guidance on getting started with your personal statement.

Equally, for more personal statement tips, check out my article on how to write a killer application here.

4. Obtain Strong References

References are a crucial component of the application process, and the process for obtaining them is different around the globe.

They provide further insight into an applicant’s academic abilities and personal qualities that cannot be gleaned from transcripts and test scores alone.

It is essential to meticulously select referees who deeply understand your strengths and can provide a glowing but honest review with a focus on your positives and potential.

Referees who have known you for a significant time and interacted with you in various contexts are usually the best choice.

It is important to note that referees can include teachers, coaches, mentors, supervisors and other professionals who have worked closely with you in a relevant context. However, it is essential to ensure that the referees chosen are appropriate for the program or institution being applied to.

For instance, if the applicant is applying to a program in engineering, a referee who can speak to their technical skills would be ideal.

According to UCAS,

A good reference can make a real difference to your application.

This statement highlights the importance of putting effort into selecting the right referees and ensuring they can provide a comprehensive and compelling endorsement.

By choosing referees who know you well and can speak to your academic and personal strengths, you can enhance your chances of being accepted into the program or institution of your choice.

My article on how to write a university reference might be of value to you, as it shows you the kinds of elements that a referee should include and gives you some options for developing your content.

5. Attend Open Days and Interviews

Attending open days and interviews is an excellent way to learn more about the university and the course. It is also a great opportunity to make a good impression on the admission committee, which sees hundreds of applicants.

When preparing for an open day, research the university and the course thoroughly to show your enthusiasm and interest. You’ll also want to discover gaps in your knowledge and generate questions you need to find the answers to in person.

The more you learn in advance, the more rewarding your experience will be.

You can also use this opportunity to network with other prospective students and learn more about the university’s student life. You may also meet current students and alums who can offer valuable insights into the university and the course.

Learn about their experiences, ask for tips on how to succeed in the course, and even gain advice on managing your time and balancing your academic and personal life.

Attending open days can also help you better understand the university’s culture and values, which can help you decide whether the university is a good fit for you.

According to Dr Carasso, attending open days demonstrates your interest in the course and shows that you are proactive and committed to your education. Attending open days can give you an edge over other applicants, allowing you to showcase your personality and skills beyond what is written on your application.

Many universities offer pre-application interviews. This is a chance for them to apply the selection criteria in person and streamline the process. It’s also a powerful opportunity to ask a range of questions and decide whether your learning style fits with what’s on offer.

By making the most of this opportunity, you can show the admission committee that you are a well-rounded candidate who is passionate about the course and willing to go the extra mile to achieve your academic goals.

You can learn more about the university interview process by reading my article here or clicking on the image below.

6. Develop Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities for college are a crucial component of a well-rounded student experience.

They offer opportunities to explore interests outside the classroom, develop new skills, and build meaningful relationships with peers and mentors.

When choosing extracurricular activities, it’s important to consider your interests and how they relate to your academic goals. For example, if you’re interested in pursuing a medical career, you may want to consider volunteering at a hospital or participating in a health-related club.

This demonstrates your passion for the field and your commitment to learning more about it. It also shows admissions teams that you can balance the demands of your academic work with a thriving co-curricular timetable, reinforcing the depth and scope of your suitability.

Suppose you can engage in popular extracurricular activities at the university of your choice (and gain a convincing level of skill). In that case, your connection to the co-curricular life of the college you’re applying for will be strengthened too.

In addition to being relevant to your course of study, extracurricular activities can also showcase important qualities that universities and employers highly value.

By actively participating in a club or organisation, you can demonstrate your ability to work collaboratively towards a shared goal and develop your leadership, teamwork and problem-solving skills.

As UCAS notes:

Extracurricular activities can make your application stand out and demonstrate your commitment to your subject.

By exploring your interests and engaging in extracurricular activities, you can improve your chances of getting accepted to your desired university or course and gain valuable experiences and skills that will benefit you throughout your academic and professional journey.

Check out my article on how to write about yourself, especially if you’re unsure how to express the value of your non-academic skills and experiences!

7. Gain Work Experience

Work experience is a vital component of personal and professional growth. It provides an opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge gained in the classroom to real-life situations.

Gaining practical skills and knowledge in your field of choice is fundamental to developing a successful career. Consequently, selecting relevant work experiences that align with your career goals and offer valuable learning opportunities is essential.

This is especially critical when applying for a master’s degree, as the admissions team will expect to see substantial and applicable ‘real-world’ experience. You can read my article on writing a master’s personal statement here or click the image below.

In addition to practical skills, work experience can also aid in developing and showcasing valuable soft skills, which are increasingly sought after by employers.

By collaborating with others and facing challenges in the workplace, you can enhance your ability to work effectively with others, communicate your ideas clearly, and find innovative solutions to problems; all valuable skills in higher education.

Lecturer Dr Lucy Bryant emphasises the significance of work experience, stating that:

(Work experience) can be a valuable addition to your resume, demonstrating your motivation and enthusiasm for the subject.

The important thing the remember is that all work experience can be relevant to a university application. If the work experience is in a field aligned with the focus of your application, you’ll have lots of content to inform your personal statement and interview.

You’ll also be able to use the vocabulary of your subject with ease and write about your related goals compellingly.

If your work experience is in an unrelated field, then reference the transferable skills you’ve developed and show how these will successfully underpin your desired course of study.

Every experience is an opportunity to demonstrate your suitability – you just have to write from the most appropriate perspective.

Do You Need Some Help To Get Into The University Of Your Dreams?

If you’re still unsure how to write a compelling university application, why not get in touch with me? I’d be delighted to help you write a perfect personal statement and get you on the road to a successful university career.

Click here to find out more about how I enable hundreds of clients to develop successful personal statements every year!

8. Prepare for Admissions Tests

Admissions tests are a crucial component of the application process, particularly for those seeking admission to top-tier universities. These tests evaluate a candidate’s knowledge and skills in their chosen subject, and a high score is often a critical factor in the admissions decision.

Common admissions tests are administrated by the University of Cambridge and include tests such as the UKCAT, BMAT and MLAT assessments.

Consequently, applicants must prepare effectively to maximise their chances of success.

One effective strategy for preparing for admissions tests is to seek out study materials. These may include textbooks, online courses, or practice tests. Working with a tutor or study group can also be beneficial, as it allows for a collaborative review of key concepts and test-taking strategies.

In fact, some applicants may find that studying with others is more effective than studying alone.

If you are working alone and having trouble focusing in your independent study sessions, the golden rule is the work in short, consistent bursts. Check out my post on how to use the Pomodoro technique to boost your study productivity!

Dr Carasso, a renowned expert on admissions testing, stresses the importance of preparation and practice for success on these tests. He notes that familiarity with the test format and content is crucial in achieving a high score.

Moreover, applicants need to develop a strong understanding of the underlying concepts that are tested rather than simply memorising information.

By preparing for admissions tests thoroughly, you’ll feel confident and well-equipped on test day. Plus, effective preparation can help to reduce test anxiety and increase overall performance.

9. Submit Your Application Early

Submitting your application early can give you a significant advantage over other applicants.

By submitting your application early, you demonstrate that you have taken the time to consider your options carefully and are committed to the application process. This can be particularly important in highly competitive fields where admissions committees receive many applications.

Although, for example, the UCAS system requires universities to consider every application made before the deadline, it doesn’t mean there’ll still be a space for you if your application is submitted before the deadline but later during the admissions cycle.

For more information on the UCAS admission process and the kinds of deadlines you need to consider, check out my post here.

In addition to demonstrating your commitment, submitting your application early can give you more time to prepare for interviews and admissions tests. This extra time allows you to review your application materials more carefully, make any necessary revisions, and ensure that you have presented yourself in the best possible light.

Applying early can also allow you to learn more about the institutions you are applying to. By submitting your application early, you may receive feedback from admissions committees, allowing you to address any concerns or questions they may have before the final deadline.

Early college application submission is an excellent way to increase your chances of success in the application process. By demonstrating your commitment to your chosen field and carefully preparing your application materials, you can position yourself as a strong candidate for admission.

Make Sure Your Application is Accurate!

When you submit your application, it must be concise, well-structured and accurate. I always recommend Grammarly to my students and clients, as it is a fantastic tool for editing, rewriting and proofreading.

You can check out the free version of Grammarly here or hit the banner below for more information.

10. Stay Positive and Persevere

The university admissions process can be a challenging and stressful time for many applicants.

You’ll often find you’re competing with thousands of other applicants for a limited number of places, and sometimes even the most supportive of your peers will be too busy with their own applications to support you.

However, it’s important to remember that this process does not reflect your worth as a person or student.

To stay positive and motivated throughout the process, it can be helpful to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps.

For example, start by researching the schools you’re interested in and learning about their admissions requirements. Then, create a timeline for completing each application and give yourself ample time to write and revise your essays.

It’s also essential to seek advice and guidance from others. Talk to your guidance counsellor, teachers and peers: they can offer valuable insights and support to help you navigate the admissions process more confidently and efficiently.

Finally, remember to stay true to yourself and your goals. Don’t try to mould yourself into what you think admissions officers want to see. Instead, focus on presenting a genuine and authentic picture of yourself as a person and student.

As Dr Bryant advises:

The admissions process can be challenging, but staying focused and motivated is important. Keep your goals in mind and stay positive, and you’ll come out on top.

I hope this post on the ten best strategies for getting into the university of your choice has been helpful, and I wish you the best of luck with your application.

Don’t forget to contact me if you’d like some 1:1 support, or check out my extensive range of free, exclusive personal statement examples, which you can use for further inspiration.

Research and content verified by Personal Statement Planet.

David Hallen

I've worked in the Further Education and University Admissions sector for nearly 20 years as a teacher, department head, Head of Sixth Form, UCAS Admissions Advisor, UK Centre Lead and freelance personal statement advisor, editor and writer. And now I'm here for you...

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