By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling
You can easily feel like “just a number” when navigating the college admissions process. But colleges really do want to know the real you, and they provide many different opportunities to authentically demonstrate your talents, accomplishments, interests, and ambitions. As with everything in the college process, the key is to start early. Knowing the nuances of the application process and laying the groundwork in your early high school years make the actual application process much less stressful! Here are 5 tips to help your college application stand out:
Raise your hand!
This is also known as “demonstrating interest,” and it’s very important to colleges and universities. Schools use marketing techniques to identify students who are most likely to attend. This helps them predict yield, a crucial data point in their admissions calculation. (“Yield” is the number of students that choose to enroll out of the number of students accepted. It is a key marker of success in college admissions offices–and a critical factor in those infamous college rankings.) Even during a pandemic, you can still show them the love! Are you following the schools on your list on social media? Have you taken virtual tours (and made sure not to skip the part where they ask for your contact information)? Are you taking advantage of digital engagement opportunities? Here’s what I mean: If you are on their email list and receive an invitation to a prospective students Q&A session–GO! Yes, we all have Zoom fatigue, but now is the time to push through. RSVP for the session and then be an active participant. Because many colleges still aren’t doing official visits/tours, they are offering more and more digital ways to engage. Take advantage!
Look beyond the “main” university profiles
You can learn a great deal by engaging with the main college and admissions accounts on social media and the web. But, based on your interests, look deeper. Consider following the co-ed acapella group’s Instagram account, or the women’s club soccer on Twitter. Look on VSCO, Facebook, even LinkedIn. These can be a great unfiltered look into campus life! If you find a niche that really excites you, that’s the kind of personal information you can work into your application essays. It shows the admissions team that you’ve gone the extra step to find ways to fit into campus.
Keep track of your accomplishments
Taking time to update your resume on a Friday night probably doesn’t seem like a lot of fun. But stressing during your senior year to remember which semester you won all-conference honors isn’t fun either! Take time to keep your resume updated with your honors, accomplishments, achievements, and activities as you progress through high school. Spring musical? All-state band? Food bank all-star? Keep track of them as you go, and you won’t have to scroll through your phone to remember when you were inducted into the National Honor Society. Remember, leadership comes in all shapes and sizes and isn’t always about being captain or president. Taking initiative also counts as leadership, like founding a school club or starting a volunteer program that enables you to make a difference.
Be intentional and thoughtful with your course selection
Gone are the days when straight As were enough to turn the eye of a competitive college. With honors, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate classes now offered routinely, it’s important to consider the academic rigor of your schedule. Colleges want to see you challenge yourself–even if that means getting a B in an AP class instead of an A in a standard-level class. And here again, thinking about this early in your high school career will serve you well. Map out your path in each core subject, and select electives that demonstrate your interests. Colleges want to see that you are willing to push yourself when given the opportunity.
Find, and nurture, your interests!
Colleges are looking for engaged and dedicated students–young people who rise to the challenges but also want to make themselves, and the world, a better place. Find activities that fuel your interests in an authentic way, something you sustain over time. Are you an editor for your yearbook? Have you studied piano since you were very young? Do you like volunteering at the local senior center? Part-time jobs can help on this front, as can doing things that may relate to your field of study (if you already have one–it’s okay if you don’t!). If you love graphic design, you could work on your church or synagogue’s website or newsletter. If you want to be an engineer, you could work with STEM clubs at the local elementary school or community center. The key is to genuinely enjoy what you do, since that comes through in the application process.
As you can see, it’s important to start thinking about the college process early, and to lay stones in that foundation. Finding ways to show initiative, leadership and determination, while being yourself, is the key. Keep a steady and proactive focus on schools you are interested in, and show them why you’d be a good fit. You got this!