3 Steps to Help You Get Into Your Dream University

A student from Taiwan shares three things he wishes he'd known earlier in the college search process that can help you get into your dream school.

As a current international high school senior, I always hoped someone would be able to guide me throughout my college application process. Unlike many of my classmates who sought help from outside counseling agencies, I’ve mostly relied on myself since the start of my freshman year, navigating the process along with a few of my close friends. During my sophomore year, I decided to create a small counseling group with a few of my classmates along with high schoolers from around the world, where we share resources and updates on the college application process. I started researching all the schools I planned to apply to and the different application forms required by each one. 

By the end of my junior year, I became the student who was most familiar with the application process in my class; my classmates would constantly come to me for help. As admission decisions have recently begun to arrive, it turns out that several of us who didn’t enroll in outside counseling agencies have been admitted to many of our top schools. How did we do it? Read on to learn three things I wish I had known earlier in the process that will surely help you get into your dream university. 

1. Start researching universities during freshman year

In the early round of applications, many of my classmates complained that they had no idea how to write the school-specific supplemental essays. Sometimes when teachers ask students why they’re applying to their chosen schools, the answer is, “I don’t know...I guess I applied to College X because it has a prestigious ranking.” But lacking a solid understanding of the school itself as well as why you want to attend that school will most likely mean a rejection from the admission committee. 

Related: How to Research Colleges if You're an International Student 

Don’t wait until the last minute

Some of my peers started researching the schools they were applying to just a few days before the application deadline. That’s extremely risky, because without a sufficient amount of time devoted to research, colleges will see your lack of real interest and knowledge about their programs and institution. The best way to ace the process is to start researching some colleges you have in mind as early as possible. Start by visiting each school’s undergraduate admissions website. If you have no idea what colleges you’d like to delve into, you can use college search engines to help build (then narrow down) your list.

Tip: It’s extremely useful to find a college’s “mission statement” to see whether your personality and extracurricular activities match the qualities that a school is looking for, which gives you a better chance to be admitted if you see yourself as a fit. 

2. Demonstrate your interest

When people talk about demonstrated interest, the ultimate question comes down to: how do I demonstrate my interest in a school? Although not all colleges (especially top-tier universities) track demonstrated interest, it’s always best to show your passion toward the institutions you’re applying to. Demonstrated interest further gives you the motivation to research more about the college itself. You can do this by signing up for the college’s email list, attending information sessions or college tours (with the pandemic, virtual tours and sessions are extremely accessible to all students across the world), or even contacting your regional admission officer. Reach out to them if you have questions, but never bombard them with easy questions that can be answered with an online search.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to College Admission Questions 

Write great supplemental essays

An important aspect that students often forget about demonstrated interest is supplemental essays. Prompts like “Why This College?” are a great opportunity to demonstrate your interest and persuade the school why they should accept you among all the other applicants. One of my friends in my counseling group, Nanyee Lin, believes the reason she was accepted to the University of Virginia but deferred by the University of Michigan is because of her essays. “I spent a lot of my time crafting my supplemental essays to link my interest to UVA’s qualities,” she said. “On the other hand, I think I [was] deferred by UMich because I didn’t really talk a lot about the specific reasons why I wanted to attend UMich in my essay.” Similarly, after re-reading my “Why Northwestern?” essay, I believe my strong passion for the University’s specific programs that I portrayed in my essay was ultimately one of the biggest factors as to why I was the only student admitted out of many other strong applicants in my class during this selective year. 

3. Carefully answer all parts of the application—and double-check everything!

This final tip may appear as simple as it seems: double-check again and again. Yet many students still make similar mistakes that could’ve been avoided before they even submitted their applications. The best way to avoid silly mistakes is to double- or even triple-check every question on your application. Colleges are going to see whether or not you’ve devoted time to answer college-specific questions on the Common App or other application portals. Make sure you answer all parts of your application carefully and correctly. 

Related: 11 Steps to Finalizing and Submitting Your College Apps 

Ultimately, getting accepted to college comes down to the hackneyed saying: start early! The earlier you start your university search, the more prepared you’ll feel once you enter your senior year and submit your applications. Best of luck!

Still looking for your dream university? Browse dozens of school profiles in our International Colleges & Universities digital magazine and find your perfect fit!

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About Po-Ting (Duke) Lin

Po-Ting (Duke) Lin

Po-Ting (Duke) Lin is a student at Northwestern University from Taipei, Taiwan. He's interested in both human biology and creative writing and currently pursues Economics and Business at college. Besides conducting research at the National Defense Medical Center, Duke is a founder of KidSpirit magazine's Taiwanese editorial board and an avid sharer who loves helping high schoolers with the college application process.


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