5 Ways to Stand Out on College Applications

May 29, 2013 ·

Whether you’re a first-time student, a transfer, or headed for grad school, anyone applying to school knows how difficult the application process is and it isn’t getting any easier.


Between essays, transcripts, interviews, and all the other hoops an applicant has to jump through, just completing the process is something to celebrate, let alone getting accepted and choosing where to go. Even the top students with good grades and extra-curriculars can find it a challenge to stand out.


Competition grows fiercer


Every year, colleges and universities receive more applicants than they had in previous years. Every year they see students who have shown outstanding performance in high school and on standardized exams.


It’s easy for applicants to feel like they don’t have a chance in the growing competition and have no idea what colleges are looking for. But there’s always hope. No college looks at only one piece of an application; if someone has less than perfect test scores, he or she may still impress with a killer essay.


How to put together a winning application


College applications offer students a chance to show off and brag. Schools want a well-rounded student body, so there’s no certainty about what they’re looking for besides honest, hard-working scholars.


The best thing you can do on the application is to be yourself. The college’s admissions office knows what kind of student will be successful at their school, and if you wouldn’t be a good fit, it’s better to find that out right away rather than confuse the school with an application you think they want to see.


Here are some ways that students can put together the best possible college application and stand out from the competition:


  • Do your research: Students should only apply to the right schools the ones that fit their goals rather than the ones they think they should apply to.


  • Apply early: High school students are experts at procrastinating. Getting a head start on applications starting to choose colleges to apply to and gathering materials in the summer between junior and senior year and turning in your application as early as possible will make a great first impression. It shows you’re serious about the school.


  • Give each piece the attention it deserves: A college application is a package of materials that represents you. Some pieces, like grades and test scores, reflect what you’ve done over most of your school career. Others, like essays and interviews, are more personalized and give you a chance to be more than a test score: your personality can shine through and make a real connection with the admissions team. Each piece of the application, from the essays to mailing in SAT scores and transcripts, needs the same amount of attention. Following instructions and sending in a complete application is the best way for students to get their foot in the door.


  • Have a few backups: The majority of students that apply to colleges have a few dream schools and then a few backup schools, and it’s common for students either not to get accepted to their top choices or not to be able to attend for financial reasons. Often, they end up being happier than they expected at their second-choice school.


  • Be yourself!: Throughout this entire process, the students who are true to themselves, honest and open in their essays and interviews, and content to be themselves without stretching the truth on their application, will end up at the right school.


Standing out is now more important than ever with schools like USC receiving 10,000 more applicants than they had just two years before. Not only are colleges and universities receiving more applications to choose from, but many are choosing fewer students.


Higher applicant rates and decreasing numbers of acceptances means that students have to put even more time and care into their college applications and prove they deserve to be accepted by their school of choice.


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