Preparing a college roadmap should start during your freshman year in high school. While the UCs and most CSUs only calculate your sophomore and junior year's grade point average, private schools also want to see how you did as a freshman.
Getting into some of the top universities has certainly proven to be harder over the last 20 years. Take Cal, for example. In 2011, 26 percent of those undergraduates who applied were accepted, versus 41 percent in 1991.
Collin Ramondetta attends Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek. His sophomore year he earned an impressive 3.8 GPA.
"It's just really daunting to see these common schools that even as a good student you probably don't have much of a chance to get into," said Ramondetta.
Las Lomas has five counselors and one advisor for 1,600 students.
"Parents think that the process is the same as when they went to college and it's not," said Ellen Smith, a college advisor for Las Lomas High School.
That's why Collin's parents hired independent college advisor Michelle Myers to help them navigate the college application process. Myers says advanced placement courses could help students increase their grade point average beyond a 4.0, but she has a warning.
"I do if the student feels they are going to be successful in it. If they are going to just kill themselves just to pull a B in that class and other courses might suffer from it, I don't recommend it," said Myers.
Myers advises her students to take both the SAT and the ACT in the spring, then again their senior year.
"...because they become very focused and mature over the summer," said Myers.
And get to know your high school counselor. He or she is one of three people who will write your college recommendation letter. The other two are teachers.
"You want to make sure you have a math or science teacher and then your second teacher recommendation needs to be English or foreign language or History," said Myers.
Every summer get serious about a sport, an internship or performing community service and not just for one week. Often times that experience will give you a great story to tell on your college essay.
"They want something edgy. What's something different about you?" said Myers.
Graham Brunner hopes his water polo skills will give him an edge. Myers helped graham and his parents narrow down their choices.
"I've been looking at some UCs and a lot of colleges in California because that's where most of the water polo schools are, but I am open to expanding and looking at other places also," said Brunner.
"I'm anxious for him to go to school on the East Coast and he wants to go back East and I think that's where our family will gravitate," said Melanie Brunner, Graham's mother.
Myers tells all her clients most universities back east including the Ivy Leagues want not only racial and social diversity but geographic diversity as well.
"Just saying that I am a college counselor from California, I have the college reps coming straight to me and handing me cards saying, 'If you know any student that would be a good fit for them, please have them contact me,'" said Myers.
Myers charges $1,500 for what amounts to more than 30 hours of guidance, advice and expertise.
There's no Ivy League guarantee. From day one, Myers makes sure parents and students know their choice should not be based upon a school's reputation, but instead on finding the best fit for the student.
You can contact Michelle Myers at: firstname.lastname@example.org