When I was a teenager, BYU was my dream. I grew up in Louisiana and Texas, and I wanted to gather with lots of other members of my faith in college, and though I knew there were options within my state for a smaller gathering of LDS kids, I wanted to be at BYU. My parents went there, it was my dream.
Long story short, I didn’t get in out of high school. I wasn’t surprised, yet I was still devastated. Not only had my dream been crushed, I was embarrassed, it seemed, all of my other friends got in. They actually hadn’t, but that was my perception at the time.
I began my college career at Ricks College, now BYU-Idaho, and I LOVED it there!
I wanted to make sure my kids knew it was a GREAT option, and over the years, I’ve prepped my teens to “not put all their eggs in one basket” to recognize there are many options, that their dream school isn’t the “end all be all,” and they can still get there if they don’t at first.
We took a tour of the Rexburg campus my oldest son Tyler’s senior year (2018), to help them see how awesome of a campus it is there.
All of that said, I’ve asked questions, listened, and gathered information over the years for the best chances of BYU Provo, as it somehow also became the dream of my kids, as it was mine back in the day.
My best tip came over 10 years ago. My oldest was 12, still several years away from even THINKING about college. (I’m a BIG fan of thinking/planning ahead, at least 5 years).
I learned an ACTIONABLE step that your teen can consider that will give a huge BOOST in their BYU application.
There was a girl at church I was close with, and she was applying, and she was AWESOME, but she didn’t feel like her GPA and ACT were all that great. (This used to weigh SO heavily on the BYU decision, and the University has been candid that they now take a more “holistic” approach.)
You hear about the kids that didn’t get in with a super high GPA or excellent ACT? It’s because they want to see something else in addition. Not to say that that doesn’t matter (still aim HIGH) but along with that. I will add that 2 of my 3 kids had “average” GPA and ACT. Here’s the best tip that she shared after an experience she had:
LEADERSHIP! LEADERSHIP! LEADERSHIP!
Tip #1: BYU loves to see leadership, and the best tip I got years ago was to encourage your teen to start a club at their high school. Unlike other leadership positions, you don’t have to be voted, run for anything, or be elected through popularity, you just have to be willing to jump in and do it. (Not easy for all of my kids). They have to be willing to LEAD, to stand up in front of the club, to conduct meetings. They can also ask/assign friends to hold positions so they don’t have to do it all.
10 years ago, this young friend of mine went for a tour at BYU in the fall of her senior year as she was working on her application. She told the tour guide about a club she started and he then took her in to talk to the dean (or someone important) after and he said to her very specifically, because of the club she started, showing leadership, that puts her above so many applicants just for that point alone.
My boys co-founded the triathlon club at their school, and my daughter started the service club. It takes effort, they have to be willing to put in the work. The process will be different at each school, so encourage them to reach out to admin to ask “How do I start a club?” (You can also google: clubs to start at high school to get ideas)
Look at what clubs are already offered in their school. See a need, fill a need.
They’ll need a teacher sponsor and fill out paperwork to get it approved. I’d recommend doing this their Junior Year. If you start too early they may burn out. Just want to make sure it gets started by the end of junior year (paperwork and admin approval can take 4-6 weeks). My daughter got her club approved the end of her junior year and went full swing with the club meetings at the beginning of her senior year. That only gives about 2 months of hard work to write about in the essay application, it’s enough.
The sponsor teacher is also a great one to write a letter of recommendation because they work closely with your teen in the club (can reference their leadership). My daughter really dragged her feet on this idea. She doesn’t LOVE leading. She prefers to be a work horse, to observe and listen, and this was a hard one to convince her of its’ benefits. The hoops to jump through, the worry of whether or not people would attend her meetings was a lot…. my husband finally chimed in…. “you work 4 years for your GPA, this is the best “bang for your buck.” For 4-6 months of organizing, planning, executing, the effort is worth it for the highly possible outcome.
There are other ways to lead aside from a school club, might be a community/neighborhood/ward clean up effort (one time thing), organizing a ward indexing challenge (multiple times), be creative in ways to LEAD. (Though many youth are asked to lead as a calling, I wouldn’t say this stands out on an application as much, but it could, writing about overcoming obstacles leading–it’s less “above and beyond” for LDS because many have these callings).
Another great form of leadership is starting your own business. This doesn’t have to be huge, but my daughter loved editing videos, a handful of people paid her to create them, so that was something she was able to write about in her essays. They could have a cookie making business, freezer meal making business, lawn-mowing, reselling clothes on Facebook marketplace. Just showing gumption and grit!
I know a teenager that sent out a weekly email asking about who wants fresh bread each week. She had orders every week! She asked on Wednesday, baked Saturday morning, and delivered Saturday afternoon! So smart. I loved being a recipient of her freshly baked bread. Another teen emailed quarterly (around holidays) about cookie orders and delivered.
They can create an Instagram or Facebook page account, market, sell, and write in their essay. Share from YOUR facebook account for locals, even post on community pages.
My daughter didn’t see her video editing (and getting paid for it) as a legitimate business because it wasn’t huge, but HOT DANG, it IS! She had a talent that others saw, and earned money for it (and marketed herself a little to gain more business).
Sometimes teens need to be convinced that what they are doing is worthy of the name you are giving to it (starting a business).
My son posted on our neighborhood facebook page that he could clean trash cans or do “odd jobs” and he got asked to do so many things! Making money, and showing leadership (to write about later) along the way.
Essays are EVERYTHING!!! BYU has been very open about the fact that they go for a holistic approach more than perfect standardized test and GPA. (ACT was even optional this year). That means, it’s all about the essays! Essays are where they explore their leadership (club/business/other) and also important to share challenges and how they are overcome.
My kids worked for over a month on their 6 essays, (many just slap them together in a day) and we worked with a group that helped edit them through BrookeRomney.com. Not rewriting anything, but asking questions, and helping them to create the best essays possible to show off their skills and qualities. This editing group knows BYU‘s mission very well, and encourages applicants to write according to that mission statement.
My oldest worked directly with Brooke in 2018 for around $50, my second son the next year was about the same price, but she gained popularity on instagram, and more people heard about it, it’s now $750 to work with her directly. Funny enough, she was full when I remembered to reach out in early September, which I was kinda glad, because $750 felt like a lot, so we opted to work with one of her employee’s for $350 for my daughter. Still felt like a lot, but I knew it would be beneficial. It’s worth the price. You may be a good writer (or a grandparent or friend) but a) it’s nice for your teen to work with someone they don’t know, they are writing really vulnerable stuff and b) These writers KNOW WHAT BYU wants!!! The prompts are announced on BYU website in August, often the same or a variation of years past prompts.
I think this opportunity is announced through Brooke’s channels in August each year, but I’d reach out to her in advance (tell her I sent you!) and see if she has a waiting list (especially if you have a Junior now). She also has a newsletter you can join, but I missed the announcement last summer (and I even went to lunch with her in August and talked about this very thing with her!!) I was lucky to get one of the last spots with her associate in mid September to work with my daughter the month of October. She was AWESOME to work with!
In 2022, she had a group ZOOM call for $35 (may go up in 2023) on August 30th and September 20th where a TON of very very helpful information was shared specific to BYU essays. (If $350 sounds like too much to work one on one, this is a no brainer.) She requires you to be on this call if you choose to work with her or her associates, too. I was taking notes like crazy on this call (so was my daughter), she goes through each BYU essay prompt and gives ideas on what to write about. I can’t emphasize this enough: PAY FOR THIS ZOOM CALL!!! This was PURE GOLD! A lot of emphasis on the BYU mission statement/aims.
Paying $350 certainly feels/felt like a gamble. I hesitated, but ultimately, it was worth it to me. Even if 6 months later didn’t yield the outcome we’d hoped, we knew we did EVERYTHING to give the best possible chances, and that’s worth $$$ to me than wondering, “what if?”
IN a NUTSHELL: I’ve seen kids with HIGH scores not get in, and kids with lower/average scores get in, and I truly think the essays make or break in both cases. Kids with lower scores stand out with leadership (school, club, jobs) and kids with excellent stores that assume they are a “shoe in” may just throw together their essays in a day, and it hurts them. My thoughts from lots of observation!
It is important for your teen to plan to be vulnerable in these essays. They want to hear about struggle, overcoming struggle, grit, heart. I have a friend whose son applied the year before my oldest, he has high functioning Autism, but he didn’t want to write about that, because either embarrassed or wanted to not focus on that. He had a 35 ACT and pretty decent GPA and didn’t get in.
When they inquired a week or so later, they don’t really say why you don’t get in, but emphasized the importance of sharing deeply about yourself in essays and encouraged him to apply in August, for January winter semester. He applied again, wrote with more heart and grit and really shared his challenge, and got in. VULNERABILITY and STRUGGLE is what they want to hear. (My son wrote about Integrity and a friend asking to cheat off off him, not feeling like a leader as an introvert, but gaining respect from freshman on his XC team for being nice to them). It’s not all about how many clubs and sports you are in!!!
(Little known tip, I’ve seen several NOT get in for Fall and apply a few months later and DO get in for January. Fewer apply for that semester. They won’t say it’s better chances, but I’ve seen it be a greater chance.)
Few other random tidbits:
* I JUST learned about the BYU FlexGE program recently, an option to do online BYU/night classes live amongst students (not sure about dorms) right away. It’s something I knew existed, but didn’t know what it was called. Watch the short YouTube video at the top of that link. Easier to transfer into BYU. Most people look at UVU to still have the “BYU experience” but much more expensive, especially the second year with out of state tuition (they often waive it the first year).
*Call BYU and ask questions! I called a ton! They are so nice, and know that it’s a stressful process.
*Encourage your Junior/Senior to really get to know a few teachers at school. They need a core teacher (math/english) and I think non core/non teacher to write letters. If they don’t know them, it’s hard to write about them! They can share comments in class, ask to help, volunteer as well, just go talk to the teacher a few times after class with questions/comments. It shows GRIT. Then the teacher has “above and beyond” things to write about their character.
*Take an ACT prep course, and plan to have your teen take it at least twice. Though ACT is still optional, we took a BYU tour, and they still felt it could benefit to submit it, so my daughter did. Feel free to message me and I’ll share specifics more privately. (PS I hate the ACT, so dumb to be timed on your knowledge, but it is what it is). Some of these services can be pricey, so I’d pay for essay help if you can only choose one. I’d recommend taking ACT once (junior year or summer after) then online or book prep course, then take again. We worked with a friend one on one that no longer does this, but there are a variety of options.
*If you have the ability, helpful to take a college campus tour between end of Junior year, summer, or early fall of your teens senior year. We did, and got to ask a lot of questions (like, should she submit ACT) great feedback there.
*For years I’d observed people asking about AP classes or dual enrollment in high school. I’ve heard “they like to see SOME of that.” Even if you encourage your teen to take just ONE AP class per year, it boosts the application. One of my kids took a summer college history class and got a C, which was a huge stress when applying (mostly A’s and a few B’s otherwise) thankfully that was overlooked. If AP feels like too much for them, don’t do it. Current mental health is more important.
*As a former seminary teacher (who taught freshman, so didn’t have to do the letter of recommendation) I know this holds a lot of weight. The junior and senior teachers are usually asked to write (the junior teacher will know them best, as they are only with the senior teacher for a month or two). Encourage your teen to SHARE their thoughts/comments in class. To go the extra mile (volunteer to help before, after, or outside of class to teach or help in some way). Teachers are asked about attendance, and have to rate accordingly. The better the teacher knows your teen, the better they can share something specific in their rec letter. The teacher has a handful of boxes to check (about attendance and on a scale of 1-10 ish how do they contribute) with a very short box to fill in thoughts. I think you can view this online somewhere if you really want to see it, or ask your teacher.
*While I generally prefer my kids to do their own thing, don’t get involved and don’t know a thing about test and project deadlines for their classes, I was quite involved in this process. Slight annoyance from my teen at times with my GENTLE REMINDERS, so I had to weigh that, but ultimately, the annoyance was worth it to me because they needed nudges. You have to weigh how much you push. (When we worked with an essay editor, there are hard deadlines).
*Someone shared this link with me, an interview with BYU Admissions: Beyond Checkboxes, BYU Admissions Changes: https://magazine.byu.edu/article/beyond-checkboxes-byu-admissions-changes (highlight the link and type it in, I don’t want this post to be tied to it as a “checkbox” haha!
****Feel free to email me or message on Instagram with any other questions! (I’m a much more open book about details one on one!) I feel funny talking about all of this TOO publicly, (because it’s all no guarantee) but I’ve done a good amount of research, and hopefully it’s obvious that it’s no guarantee, and but we’ve found and it’s proven to be very beneficial.
BYU on-campus housing tips coming soon, check back! (hint: submit applications as early as possible–before the early deadline– to be at the top of the housing wait list!)