SAN DIEGO, Calif. -

Indira Esparza is in her third year of college, but she still remembers the stress of applying to her favorite universities.

“Being sure of myself and being confident was really what helped me,” she said.

Esparza  also found help in Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, a college admissions counselor. Shaevitz says many high schoolers don’t know who they are – so they can’t decide what they want to be.

“Parents need to start early helping their children figure out who they are as people,” she explained.

Shaevitz says pay attention to what your kids like to do starting at about age three, and give them resources to explore their interests. She says showing your choice college who you are is most important. In that infamous admissions essay write about a specific experience that describes your character. On your application – remember quality is more important than quantity when it comes to extracurricular activities, so focus on what you were involved in most. Also, show colleges you’re interested.

“It’s not a bad idea to begin making friends with the admissions people,” Shaevitz said.

Rebecca Orlowski’s son Jesse took Shaevitz’s advice.

“Jesse would email schools or call schools just to get on their radar and introduce himself,” Orlowski said.

Shaevitz says admissions officers usually look at test scores, the rigor of courses a student takes and grades in those courses, in that order. She says it’s typically better to take an advanced course and get a "B" than to take a regular course and get an "A" because it shows the student is up for a challenge

Jesse applied to ten universities after receiving a 2320 out of 2400 on his SAT.

“So he applied to ten and got into ten,” Orlowski said.

Jesse decided on his first choice: MITand Esparza got into UCSD. For both students the hard work paid off.

“I am super happy that I didn’t give up on myself, not once,” Esparza said.