Smart Ways to Enhance Your College Applications
Parents and students hear it every year: The college admissions process is more competitive than ever, and on many levels it’s very true. With the digital age came easier access to application materials, and students are applying to a longer list of colleges than ever before, making for a very saturated applicant pool at many top schools.
This year, NYU reported a record-high number of applications to the Class of 2019 – over 60,000. Other highly-selective colleges, like the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University reported record-high application numbers, while simultaneously announcing a lower admission rate from the previous years.
According to NACAC, 32% of fall 2013 applicants submitted seven or more college applications, an increase of 10 percentage points since 2008. As it becomes easier to hit “submit,” more students are tacking more colleges onto their lists, driving up application numbers and thus lowering admission rates.
Competing for a spot against tens of thousands of other applicants is daunting and causes some students to pull out all the stops in order to stand out. Sometimes students do end up standing out, but for the wrong reasons.
When applying to college it’s important to remember standing out isn’t about grandstanding or gimmicks, it’s about being genuine and presenting your best self to prospective colleges. Here’s what you can do to enhance your college applications in order to stand out and improve your chances of gaining admission to your top-choice school.
One of the biggest mistakes students make when applying to college is misrepresenting themselves in order to appear to be someone they think a college will want to admit. The truth is, admissions officers see right through this. Now you may be thinking, “Well, if all I have to do is be myself why am I looking for tips on how to stand out?” Because it’s not just about being yourself, but being your best self and presenting that in a way you may have never considered before. Something about yourself that you may think of as “ordinary” might actually be more compelling than you thought.
For example, a student who loves soccer and has this listed as a top extracurricular activity might be compelled to write an essay on that same topic. However, colleges want to learn something else that’s genuine about you, so that student might choose to write about something more personal and not as obvious, like how he or she reconciles the evolutionary biology he or she is learning in class and plans to study in college with his or her religious faith.
Tailor your essays.
Many colleges on the Common Application, and those with stand-alone applications, require additional or supplemental essays. These essays are typically specific to the college and/or your intended course of study. While you may be applying as an engineering major to every school, don’t copy and paste the same “Why do you want to study engineering” essay into every application. Instead, do your homework and learn everything you can about the school and what makes it a good fit for you. Take those details and incorporate them into your essays. For example, don’t write, “I want to attend X University because it has good academics.” Instead, give specific examples of what you find appealing about the college. “I want to attend X University because I’d like to study with Professor Y and take courses X, Y, and Z.”
This is all part of demonstrating your interest in the school. Colleges want you to want them, and they aim to admit students who really want to attend. This is all part of demonstrated interest – a college’s gauge of how likely a student is to enroll if admitted. Tailoring your essays and providing specific examples of what you like about the school and how you see yourself fitting in is one of the best ways to demonstrate interest, stand out, and increase your chances of admission.
Show your specialty.
While being well-rounded has many benefits, but when it comes to college admissions it’s important for students to demonstrate a specialty. Colleges aren’t looking for well-rounded students; they want to build a well-rounded class made up of specialists. This is where many students fail to stand out – they don’t completely convey how their main area of interest will contribute to a well-rounded class.
When applying to college, make sure your application is focused and highlights your particular field of interest. Make sure to feature extracurriculars that relate to your intended major. If you plan to study engineering, emphasize your involvement on your school’s robotic team. If you want to major in music, highlight your participation in the school’s band and your volunteer work playing music at local nursing homes. There are a number of ways you can highlight how your interests and studies intersect in order to put together a thoughtful application that not only shows your interest in the college, but also why the college should be interested in you and your specialty.
Applying to college can be stressful and can cause a lot of students to make a lot of mistakes in the name of standing out. In the end, a solid application is genuine, compelling, and a reflection of who you are as a student and as a person. By being yourself, writing school-specific essays, and highlighting your specialty, you’re greatly enhancing your chances of admission because colleges will know you’re informed, prepared, and ready for the demands of a college education.