Beyond Grades and Test Scores: How Students Stand Out on College Applications

Like a yellow flower that stands out in a field of red flowers, there are ways for you to stand out on college applications

Flickr user Charles Chan

Often, I get asked the question, “how do I make myself stand out in the college process?” This can be a challenge even after the major pieces of the application process: the application, the transcript, standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and the essay. With the exception of the application (because, let’s be honest, demographic information isn’t all that impressive), all of the other items are ways to stand out in the crowd. A great essay, an exceptional transcript, or really high standardized test scores are certainly going to put you above the rest of the crowd. However, what else other can you do that may help you stand out?

College interview

I love the interview, which is probably why I listed it first. If you are applying to schools that offer the opportunity to interview with college admissions, regardless of whether it is optional or not, do it! Take advantage of an opportunity for an admissions officer and/or an alumnus who reports back to the admissions office to get to know you better. The interview works two-fold: it is a way for us (the college or university) to see if you are a good fit, and it is a way for you to ask questions which may go a long way to help you determine if we are a good fit for you. Admissions interviews are absolutely awesome and a nice balance of formal and informal.

Extracurricular activities

Perhaps you have a part-time job while you maintain a solid academic profile, you’re a varsity athlete who handles AP & Honors courses, while giving back to your community; the reality is that we want you to be as active on our campus as you have been in high school. These involvements, matched with a consistent and satisfactory academic record, are elements admissions folks remember when reviewing an application. These activities should be something you mention in your interview as well. Remember, never sacrifice quality for quantity when it comes to your extracurricular activities.

Demonstrated interest in the college

At the university I work for, we have currently read 12,999 applications. It is crazy to think that there are schools out there that review even more than that number. With that said, the students I remember the most during review are the ones with whom I have the most interaction during the recruitment cycle: open house visit, a campus tour, a telephone conversation, e-mail, and other interactions or a combination thereof all serve to help me know you better. The students with whom I interact the most, are the ones that I know are extremely interested and not only that, but, why wouldn’t you want to interact with me? I am pretty awesome! Jokes aside, these interactions are a very easy way to gain “brownie points” with the school’s college admission(s) in which you are interested. So the next time you decide not to stop by a school’s table at your local college fair or not fill out the inquiry card because you have done it before, think again.

Stand out through college essays

For some of you, an interview may not be an option or perhaps you may not feel 100% ready for one and feel better expressing yourself on paper. The admission essay allows you in some instances to share information that we may not see on your application and in other instances allows you to share your perspective on a particular subject. Either way, like the other items mentioned above, the essay is a time to shine. Take advantage of this opportunity and don’t forget to be mindful of essay instructions like word count.

Whatever you choose to do, own it. Write an awesome essay, go on a great interview, or a combination of these and then some. The idea is to make yourself stand out among the crowd and these are the ways which you can do that. They aren’t always a “must”, they certainly won’t hurt you.

Interested in your acceptance odds at a certain school? Use College Raptor to discover your chances at colleges around the country, and what financial aid you can get from them!

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