As you prepare to apply for college, 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 scores 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. Being well-rounded can give you an edge when competing for at spot at universities around the country.
Bob Neuman, a former Academic Dean at Marquette University, says that it can be more difficult to boost your resume during your last year of high school, but it's not impossible. Adding an activity or volunteer experience early on in your high school career is a plus when the college application process rolls around.
As you prepare your college application, there are several ways to prove your abilities to admissions officers.
Choose Extracurricular Activities
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. Neuman cites a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation that indicates high school students spend as much as 53 hours a week on their smartphones, gaming consoles and other electronic devices. Consider using some of this screen time to get involved in the community and boost your college applications. "A college application should show that a student is involved in productive activities," to stand out, he says.
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. Your involvement in extracurricular and community activities can help you develop time management, discipline through practice, social service, and a sense of responsibility, which are all traits that schools value, says Neuman.
Stephanie S. Espina, Director of Freshman 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.
Obtain Good Letters of Recommendation
Your letters of recommendation can give your college application an edge as well. "Admissions officers want to read distinctive letters of recommendation that are very personal and complete," says Neuman.
Build relationships with the advisers and organization leaders that head up programs you're involved with. These relationships will help them provide a comprehensive view of your strengths and abilities in their letters. Students should do the same with their teachers, recommends Neuman, so admissions officers can get an idea of how you behave inside and outside of class.
Your letters of recommendation should focus on how you accomplish your schoolwork, excel in your extracurricular activities, and describe how you interact with other students, advises Neuman. He says that some letters are generic and read like form letters because students have not developed those bonds with teachers and advisers. Personal, specific letters of recommendation from leaders who know you will help you stand out among all of the other students, Neuman says.
Write a Unique Admissions Essay
Finally, make sure you show who you are in your admissions essay. AdmitSee.com, a site that compiles data about college acceptance, finds that unique subjects 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.
Neuman says that it's important to write about your extracurricular activities in your admissions essay, and share what you learned from your participation. Expressing yourself clearly and showing that you're always learning — even from difficult situations and failures — can help you stand out from the crowd.
Admissions officers are constantly faced with stacks of candidate applications to sort through, making it important for students to take the proper steps to stand out from the sea of applicants. It's essential to be proactive and take steps like these to ensure you maximize your chances of ultimately getting the acceptance letter to your dream school.