Updated: Mar 04, 2020
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As you prepare for the college admissions process, good grades and high test scores are important, but there are other ways to show admissions officers that you're the right fit. In a world where there are thousands of high school seniors applying to schools, many of which are becoming increasingly selective, it's important to give yourself an edge.
When you consider that some students might have a weighted GPA, it becomes even more vital to show that you are more than just a number when figuring out how to get accepted into college. Being well-rounded is an advantage when competing for a spot at universities around the country.
Daniel E. Santos, the chief executive officer at Prepory, a college and career counseling service based in Florida, says that enrolling in pre-college summer programs and then taking leadership positions at your high school or in the community during your senior year is one great way to boost your résumé.
As you prepare to start applying, check out these other college admissions tips.
Sports, music, drama and art can all add to a college application — whether you are taking classes or participating in clubs. If you can combine at least two categories, it showcases your range of talents. Performing in the orchestra while also playing on the tennis team indicates that you are well-rounded and can juggle multiple responsibilities. Colleges have more reason to consider you when you are a dynamic student with an array of interests.
Community participation can also help — and even lead to scholarships. A student with a 3.7 GPA and strong community and leadership skills stands out more than a student with a 4.0 GPA and no community involvement.
These kinds of extracurricular activities also demonstrate that a student is compassionate, says Santos.
"Admissions officers want to admit students that care about more than just themselves," he says. "Demonstrating an interest in a cause or movement is a great way to show you care about others. Extracurricular and community activities also demonstrate that the student is reliable and responsible. "
Join a local service club or other organization and actively participate. Programs like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Junior Achievement, 4-H, Junior ROTC and Interact (i.e., the youth club for Rotary International) will help you develop valuable skills for college and beyond.
"Maintaining a difficult course load as well as being involved can show time management skills and dependability," says Santos — all key elements in how to get accepted into college.
Stephanie S. Espina, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Adelphi University, says some schools offer scholarship matches for involvement in Scouting programs. "When students take on leadership roles, demonstrate strong time management skills and display long-term dedicated involvement, it speaks volumes about a student's character," she points out.
Your letters of recommendation can give your college application an edge as well.
"Admissions officers use letters of recommendation to learn about how other people view the student," says Santos. An impressive letter of recommendation can help remedy any uncertainties an admissions officer may have such as a low ACT® or SAT® score, he adds.
Build relationships with the advisers and organization leaders that head up programs with which you're involved. These relationships will help them provide a comprehensive view of your strengths and abilities in their letters.
It's also important to ask the right teachers to be your reference, since many applications will require teacher recommendations. How do you ensure their reference is a great one?
"A student should be mindful of how a teacher will perceive them in the classroom," says Santos. "If the student participates regularly, always turns classwork in on time and performs well academically, the teacher will likely have positive things to say in their letter of recommendation."
Santos says that some recommendations read like form letters because the students might not have a meaningful relationship with the letter writer. He suggests being thoughtful about who you ask and also giving all your letter writers a résumé and "brag sheet" that has additional information about achievements you would like them to mention.
Santos also suggests you choose a teacher you interact with in an extracurricular activity, if possible. They'll be able to give admissions officers a better idea of how you perform inside as well as outside of class.
Letters of recommendation, which are an essential part of the college admissions process, should focus on the student's character and strengths, says Santos.
"The rest of the application is an objective view of the student from the student's experiences and point of view," he says. "However, a letter of recommendation can give the admissions officer deeper insight into the student's personality, morals and values."
Finally, make sure you show who you are in your admissions essay. Unique topics that offer an interesting perspective are more appealing to admissions officers. An unconventional hobby, talent or experience can help set you apart. Even sharing a story of when you felt out of place or failed can help you stand out from students who offer lists of accomplishments. Don't forget to address specific questions asked on your application, and proofread your essay for proper grammar and usage.
While Santos doesn't believe your admissions essay should be a written version of your résumé, he does think it gives you an opportunity to show how some of your involvements fit into your life story, what they mean to you or how they have contributed to your growth.
The college admissions process is competitive. Admissions officers are faced with stacks of candidate applications to sort through, so it can be an advantage to take steps to make your application stand out.
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