By Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick
Comedic films don't attempt to masquerade as instructional material full of life lessons, but occasionally you learn something from them, even about how to get into college. The movies featured here provide a few laughs along with some helpful hints on what not to do. Let Hollywood help you ace your college apps.
Too Little, Too Late – Or Is It?
Slack much? It might make you look cool in school, but it won't impress college admissions officers. In "Accepted," Bartleby waits until the last minute to get serious about his future.
"If only Justin Long's character had used the creativity and care he displayed -- in building and maintaining his fake college -- in his high school academic and extracurricular activities!" says Kristen Campbell, director of college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions. "He's obviously a leader and someone with a keen sense of business. Why not join an entrepreneurial organization like the Future Business Leaders of America and become its president?"
Lesson learned: If your qualifications are lacking in certain parts of your application, excelling elsewhere might give you the edge.
"By the time senior year comes, the SAT/ACT is one of the few admissions factors that you can still significantly change," says Campbell. Test early. Test often.
Be A Joiner
In the eyes of any college, enthusiasm for extracurricular activities shows that you'll strive to be a valuable member of the campus community. Though this wasn't Frank, Mitch and Beanie's original intention when they formed their "Old School" fraternity. Still, they did ultimately show initiative and school spirit by supporting the activity that they were truly passionate about.
Whether you've participated in a laundry list of activities or have been dedicated to one cause and taken an organization or team to another level, tout your accomplishments.
"Any extracurricular involvement is positive for our prospective students," says Bob Garcia, director of admissions at Alma College.
However, not every student has the time or resources to be involved in the "traditional" way, he says. Luckily, admissions committees recognize that activities may be limited for a student who is, say, responsible for an ailing parent or younger siblings.
Whether you're an extracurricular maven or not, Garcia says that colleges are most impressed by students who share how their experiences changed them, helped them grow, and altered the way they see their world.
The best way to get this message across is through a heartfelt, authentic college admissions essay -- which leads us to our next featured film.
Nothing Is Out of Reach
Elle Woods' efforts to get into Harvard Law are "simple and finite" -- study, believe in yourself, turn down invites to tempting social activities, and leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee. While a provocative video essay like Elle's probably won't fly at most schools, she's onto something.
" 'Legally Blonde' builds on a central truth: The way to succeed is to do something different," says Barry Lenson, a counselor and contributing editor at Straighterline.com, which offers college courses online. "Elle cuts through the sameness that characterizes most college application essays, and unapologetically expresses her genuine personal style. And because she has the grades to establish her credibility, she gets in."
To learn how far you can stretch your originality, Lenson suggests finding out what the "norms" are at your school of choice by asking existing students for advice through Facebook or campus blogs. But, in general, he says, the most successful college essays are still written about an unusual experience and how it changed you. "Avoid topics that make readers groan: The 'big game' your team won, the day you found God, the day a grandparent died, your wonderful relationship with a pet."
Though many college applicants may experience "essay anxiety," think of this element as a fantastic opportunity, says Campbell. "It's one of the only pieces of the application that the student controls completely. It's a chance to provide a dimension of your personality that cannot be elicited from test scores, GPA, teacher recommendations, or lists of activities."
While popularity and hooking up may be Seth's goals in "Superbad," when you leave high school no one really cares if you were the jock, the geek or the coolest dude. If you want your future to be bright, focus on what really matters -- like your academics.
"College applicants have to put together the strongest application possible to get into their top college choices and that starts -- believe it or not -- during freshman year," says Campbell.
Keep in mind too that there is no personal glory in riding the coattails of a smartie-pants best bud -- it certainly doesn't guarantee admission to the college of your choice. Though Evan may have lamented about all the time he spent doing stupid things with Seth during high school, his hard work academically landed him a spot at Dartmouth, and that's where his future lies.
Be present in the moment, challenge yourself and realize that high school, while only a blip in the grand scheme of things, is still a crucial jumping-off point for what's to come.
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