Last week, the Supreme Court announced they would hear an affirmative action case involving a White woman who claims she was denied entry to the University of Texas because less qualified minority applicants were given preference. In light of this news and an overall drop in college admissions rates in 2011, entry to college is becoming more competitive than ever.

(Photos by J.L. Martello)

At this year’s National College Fair, high school students from Pittsburgh and surrounding regions competed for the affections of more than 300 colleges, universities and trade schools. While they pitched themselves to the prospective institutions at the Convention Center on Feb. 9, admissions counselors provided the students with the keys to ensure they are accepted.

“I tell students to have an open mind. Start looking for careers that interest them,” said Brett Haselrig, director of admission at Saint Francis University. “We’re looking for students who are prepared academically, but we also are looking for strong leaders, students who have a history in extracurricular activities.”

The fair gave students and parents the opportunity to meet with admission representatives to discuss academics, scholarships, financial aid, student life and athletics. The fair also featured various workshops and allowed students to discuss their individual needs at the Counseling Center.

The overwhelming message to the group of predominantly 11th grade students was that it’s never too late to make yourself more attractive to prospective post-secondary institutions. Many of the counselors suggested students take an advanced placement or college course and take on a leadership role in a club or organization.

“Never stop trying, especially in your junior year,” said Shane Johnson, a recruiter with Nova South Eastern. “A lot of the kids here this year are juniors and I’ve heard some of them get down on themselves because their GPA might not be where they want it, but you still have time to get it up.”

Several of the counselors said it’s important for students to visit colleges before deciding where they want to apply. In fact, admissions counselors take note of students who visit their campus and factor this information into their decision.

“Make sure you know the different college’s requirements; don’t let senioritis take hold, because it is very real. And visit the different colleges because you’re going to be living there for four years,” said Kacey Watts, an admissions counselor at Ohio State. “We’re looking at grade trends so if they didn’t start out so good their freshman year, we look at how they’ve improved.”

SAT and ACT preparation was also high on the list of the counselor’s advice. However, others said the classes a student chooses to take and their grades in those classes can be more important than SAT or ACT scores.

“They should definitely look at taking four english classes and at least three years in science, math and social studies,” said Takisha Mundy, senior admissions counselor at Lincoln University. “I also suggest a foreign language because there are grants you can get and most programs require you to take some kind of language course. But depending on your major, take that extra science or math.”

Some counselors said a prospective student’s personality could also play a role in whether or not they’re accepted. They said students could showcase their individuality and maturity through admissions interviews and applications essays.

“I’m looking for students who have maturity. When I say maturity, leave all that high school nonsense at home and get ready to embark on a new journey,” Mundy said. “If their grades are strong and they’re involved in extracurriculars it says a lot, but if their grades aren’t strong and they’re involved in five other activities a week, they may want to refocus.”

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