Years ago, it may have been easy to impress the college admissions staff with your 4.0 grade point average (GPA) and a sprinkling of extracurricular activities on campus, but those days are long gone. As the number of college applications increase, so do the number of stellar students competing for coveted acceptance letters. Although it’s still impressive to earn a perfect GPA, you may need a ‘hook’ or something else that distinguishes you from the other overachievers. Colleges are seeking students who are well-rounded and will contribute to their campus, not just someone who will spend the next four years (or more) buried in books. Unfortunately, building an application that will get you noticed does not happen overnight; it takes time and some careful planning. If you want your admission packet to stand out in a sea of applications, consider the following tips:
Volunteering and getting involved in extracurricular activities can impress those reviewing your applications, but this is one instance where quality trumps quantity; it will be more persuasive if you contribute 40 hours of service to one or two causes instead of a few hours at several organizations. Pick something you are passionate about and focus your time and talents on making a difference.
Colleges want to know that you will be contributing to their campus, not just coming along for the ride. Although it does help to rack up community service hours or join campus clubs, you can really stand out by stepping up to take on leadership roles both on and off campus. Consider starting a mentoring program with a local elementary school or organizing a donation drive for school supplies to help teachers in low-income schools, as it will provide evidence that you are willing to take on more than just what it is required. Students who can see a need (or problem) and provide solutions are great assets to any college campus. Whatever project you take on, be sure it is well-planned and you finish what you start.
You probably spend quite some time on Facebook, Pinterest, or other social media, so why not put them to good use? Consider creating an About.me page, blog, or Pinterest page that highlights your contributions to your school and community. Include clippings of awards you have won, links to any press about your accomplishments, and write about issues close to your heart. It’s a great way to give your college application that extra ‘something’ to help you stand out from other applicants. Just be sure that you monitor the pages and keep them free from vulgar comments or images. You want to put your best foot forward, not make the college rethink its decision to accept you.
Calling the admissions office every week to check on the status of your application could do more harm than good (stalker!), but creating a connection with admissions staff before the application process can be helpful. Take a tour of the campus, schedule an interview, or visit the college at a local fair. Be sure to get business cards of those you have met and follow-up with a note thanking them for their time. Don’t be afraid to drop a few names in your application essays, too, as it will show the college you have made an effort to acquaint yourself with the campus and staff.
When the time comes to get recommendation letters, your favorite teachers are not always the best choice. This is an opportunity for someone else to sing your praises to the college, so choose wisely. Teachers who taught classes that align with your major, employers who have known you for a while, and community leaders who have first-hand knowledge of your contributions will carry more weight than a few paragraphs from your favorite freshman English teacher. If you are lucky enough to know any alumni from the college, don’t hesitate to enlist their help as well. If you must use someone who does not know you very well, be sure to provide a resume and listing of your awards/honors, as well as information about your contributions outside of school.
When you get to the inevitable ‘Why would you be a good fit?’ question, be sure you make it clear why you want to attend. Include information about specific professors or courses that may interest you, especially those that may not be available at other colleges. Become familiar with the school’s mission statement and relate it to you and your goals. Explain how you can contribute to furthering that mission, as well. Check out the school’s newspaper and social media for current campus events and include them in your response, as you will demonstrate your enthusiasm for the campus both inside and outside the classroom.
Although earning high marks and scoring well on college entrance exams can help considerably in getting accepted to the college of your dreams, you’ll usually need something extra to help set you apart from the rest of the pack. If you fear your college application may seem a bit bland, consider implementing some of these suggestions to spice it up. You won’t be able to cram it all in the last semester of senior year, but just adding one or two may make a difference. If you are a junior or younger, keep this list and use it to create a blueprint for success. Like most things concerning college, planning is the key!
Please Note: The WiseChoice website will be discontinued later this month. Before the site becomes unavailable, we
encourage you to download & save any stored documents you may want to keep from your account. Email us if you have questions.