Let’s pretend that, after attending preparation courses and preparing for weeks, you’ve just gotten your ACT or SAT score back–and they aren’t pretty. In fact, let’s say they’re below the average accepted scores for the university you want. Your chances of attending your dream school are squashed, right? You might as well just consign yourself to the local junior college.

But wait. There’s more to your application than test scores. Although schools tend to rely on test scores when awarding merit scholarships (http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/college-admissions-experts/2011/12/14/how-important-are-test-scores-to-college-applications), they try to look at the total package when it comes to admissions. This means, if you can boost the other parts of your application to illustrate what a fabulous student and human being you are, you can still get in. If you’re still ready to try, here are five ways that you can make up for those low test scores:

1. Volunteer.

If you can’t rely on your test score to sell your brilliance, you need to find something else that will make you stand out. Nothing will make you stand out amidst the self-absorbed masses like acts of service. When admissions committees see volunteer activities, they see someone who takes the initiative to make the world a better place. They see a model citizen that they would love to see representing their school.

So how do you find volunteer opportunities? Ask around at school or at church or even flip through the White Pages. Maybe your local food bank could use an extra set of hands to get work done. Or perhaps the residents of a nursing home could use some cheering up. A few calls will open a slew of opportunities.

2. Get some extracurricular activities.

In order of priority, admissions committees are looking first to add super-smart people to their student body. Second, they want to add people with diverse experience to add some spice to the mix.

If you can’t be one of the brainiacs, then you need to show them all the variety you can bring to their school. Try out for sports. Learn how to do something unique. Pick up a musical or artistic talent. Take on an obscure foreign language. Run for student office.

3. Befriend the principal.

Letters of recommendation from teachers are good, but a letter of recommendation from a principal would definitely take your application to the next level. For one thing, in the eyes of the committee, principals are busy people who deal with hundreds of students. For them to write you a letter of recommendation means they thought that, of all the hundreds of students in your high school, you were special–you were worth writing a letter for.

So how do you befriend the principal? Say hello. Run for student office. Organize a Principal Appreciation Day. Become his or her biggest fan. Capiche?

4. Stalk the admissions people.

If you still feel like you’re going to need some help capturing the committee’s attention, you might try more than just the normal application materials. You might call them regularly, just to put a real live person with the application in front of them. If you’re able, you should consider taking a trip to the university and making the admissions office one of your stops.

Again, out of all the faceless pieces of paper they will see, you can make a lasting impression by talking to them in person. As long as you don’t let it get creepy, annoying, or desperate, they will have a much harder time saying no to you.

5. Write your essay like your life depends on it.

Finally, your essay gives you the opportunity to make a case for why you should be admitted (despite your subpar test score). Don’t blow it off. Talk about why you are so much more than a stinking score. Talk about your personal story of struggle, striving, and finally achievement. And don’t allow a single typo or punctuation error to screw it up for you. Make sure you’re entire essay is airtight.

Remember, test scores are important, but they’re just one way that admissions committees find out who you are and how well you might fit into their school. Beef up these other parts and you stand a good chance of getting in. How can you strengthen your application?

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