How to Increase Your Child’s Chances of Getting Into the Right College

When academic counselor Sally Pascutti is working with high schoolers at Palmetto Christian Academy, she’s focused not just on getting students into college, but rather making sure they find the college that’s the very best fit.

Choosing a school for a certain major is a different approach than choosing a college for its campus culture and atmosphere. Plus, different universities have different criteria and measurements for admissions. A student applying to an art school will be focused on preparing a portfolio of artwork while a student interested in engineering will be focused on academic excellence.

Pascutti – who has gone through the college readiness process with countless students at PCA plus her own children – has some pointers for making the process a little bit easier.

1. Make community service count

Professionals who love their jobs know that work is about more than simply making money. Satisfied professionals see their primary function as providing a valuable product or service to the community. 

In this sense, “our jobs are types of community service,” Pascutti says. High school students can improve their preparation for college by choosing community service in a field of professional interest. Future engineers, for instance, can help assemble filtration systems at Water Missions; prospective health care professionals can participate in Roper St. Francis’ SCRUBS mentoring program; and aspiring educators are perfect Vacation Bible School teachers and camp counselors.

Approaching community service with purpose helps students better define professional paths while also making their applications more competitive for specific degree programs. Plus, as they write personal statements and college essays, they have real experience to frame their writing.

2. Learn from literature

Students are taught to analyze characters by studying what they do, what they say and what other people say about them. They can apply this same principle to understand that character is largely formed by habits and that people learn about our character based on how we act both in the normal and in the extraordinary moments of life.

It helps for students to list the character traits they want to be known for and then be that person by their consistent words and actions. When it comes to college admissions, teachers will have evidence of a student’s character that will allow them to write a detailed recommendation letter.


3. Treat SAT and ACT like an academic class

Both tests are very coachable, so students should study for them just like they study for chemistry or pre-calculus. Practicing the content also allows students to become familiar with the test format and timing.

PCA’s experience supports the widespread evidence that test prep makes a measurable difference in scores, Pascutti says. Students in PCA’s nine-week math test prep class consistently see gains of 40-80 math points on the SAT.

Another upside to test prep: the content is based on college readiness standards, so not only are students preparing for a better test grade, they are preparing for college coursework, she says.

4. Study one more definition

In South Carolina, every numerical grade counts under the S.C. Uniform Grading Policy, a weighted GPA scale on which every numerical grade has its own GPA. Think about it this way: one more correct answer could increase a student’s grade from 85 percent to 88 percent – that translates to a GPA increase from 3.5 to 3.8.

Each college makes its own determination about how it treats grades on a weighted scale, but for most in-state colleges and all state-sponsored scholarships, the S.C. Uniform Grading Policy is the standard measure, Pascutti explains.

No matter where students apply, higher GPAs make their applications more competitive,” she adds.

5. Start preparing early

Even for parents of elementary and middle school students who feel as if college is many years away, Pascutti says it’s not too early to start preparing.

Use the later elementary school years and middle school to develop habits and study skills that will benefit them in high school and beyond, she says. That’s also a good time to let children make mistakes – whether that’s forgetting to bring home a textbook or getting a bad grade on a test because they didn’t study.

Allow them to make those errors, so they can see the need to fix it,” Pascutti says. “Academic habits get started early.”

One of the best ways to get your student ready for college is to enroll them in an academically and college prep-focused school like Palmetto Christian Academy in Mount Pleasant.

PCA is a private, Christian, college preparatory dedicated to helping students find individual success and become lifelong learners. The school’s excellent academics, athletics, arts, small classes, and talented faculty all ensure students have a competitive edge when applying for college. In fact, the 32 students in the class of 2017 were offered almost $2 million in college scholarships.

To learn more about Palmetto Christian Academy, visit online at or call 843-881-9967.