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It's that time of year again, the time when applications begin flooding into colleges and universities nationwide. As you get set to do the same—or maybe more importantly, as you begin your high school career—here's the top 5 things that will make you a better college prospect…

5. Don't wait until junior year. Too many students make the grave mistake of “slacking off” during their freshman and sophomore years. Unfortunately for those students, college admissions offices don't look the other way at those years when that happens. The first two years count, as well, so start well and finish strong.

4. Challenge yourself…smartly. Post-secondary schools want to see that you're taking rigorous college preparatory curriculum throughout your high school career (again, from freshman year on). However, if you're still struggling with the definition of a function, AP Calculus probably isn't your best bet.

3. Get involved…but not just to be involved. It's important to be involved in extracurricular activities, from sports, to theater, to community service organizations. Don't, however, just join to say you're a member. Be committed, and even strive for a leadership position or special honor within the organization, for that, too, will be looked highly upon by colleges.

2. Set yourself apart in the application process. “Well, duh,” you might be saying, “isn't that the whole point of this thing?” And, of course, it is. What I mean by this, though, is use your essay, letter(s) or recommendation, and all the other supplementary materials wisely. Make the individual of your application say, “Wow, this student's different—in a good way—and we need him/her on our campus.” Who knows, maybe that'll even help lessen the blow of that C in 10th grade English.

1. Maintain a solid academic record. There's obviously much more to it than this (see above), but quality grades and test scores are a critical part of the process. At most places, you won't need a 4.3 GPA and 35 ACT, but it's imperative to work and work throughout your high school career to make sure you are where you need to be when it comes time to start filling out those applications.

Dave Floyd is an Admissions Counselor at Waynesburg University, whose travel territory includes Westmoreland County, Eastern Pennsylvania and the Northeast states. He is also a 2012 Waynesburg alumnus.

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