According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are almost 9.96 million applications submitted each year to the over 4,000 colleges in the U.S. Approximately 99% of those are to 4-year colleges and universities and the rest to 2-year schools; 56.7% public colleges and 43.3% private. Of those nearly 10 million applicants, about 56% (5.5 million) of them are accepted. As a side-note, out of those 9.96 million applications that are submitted, only 1.6 million students (15.8%) actually enroll.
In order to get your college application to stand out in that crowd and get your own “yes”, there are some things you should remember.
Consider Your Grades and Classes
Admission committees are impressed when they review transcripts of students who have taken AP, honors level, or other difficult courses during high school. Students who have excelled in difficult courses will impress admission committees. Additionally, many colleges recalculate applicants’ GPAs and give extra points for honors or AP courses.
Word of caution: students should balance their load of hard classes with their others. Ensure you have enough time to adequately study and prepare for each class. According to CollegeBoard, colleges look for quality of classes, rather than quantity. That point was echoed by Dan Saracino, who used to be the assistant provost for enrollment at the University of Notre Dame. He said, “Nothing is more important than the quality of the course load.”
Extracurricular Depth Beats Breadth
It might not necessarily be to your benefit to be involved in numerous extracurricular activities. Some admission committees might see this as a flawed attempt to impress them. On the other hand, it will be to your benefit to select a few activities where you excel and can be deeply involved.
How to Include or Write About Your Extracurriculars
- Specific talents developed through extracurricular activities, such as participation in a musical group, can be just as helpful to your admission opportunities as participating in community service.
- Discuss what specifically serves as the motivation behind your goals.
- When writing about your extracurricular activities, do not provide too many details. Only provide details that are important for explaining your involvement and learnings.
Essays and Personal Statements
Candidates will have the opportunity to explain their qualifications to admission officials in their personal statement, an essay written by students explaining to colleges why they should be admitted.
Students should come off as original in their personal statements. Admission committees do not want to hear vague stories about making a difference in the world. Students need to be unique to catch the attention of the admission committee.
The best strategy is to tell an original story about yourself that demonstrates why you are unique and a good fit for the school. This story should help the admission committee get to know who you are and why you want to attend their school.
1. Choose a Good Story, Be Specific, and Tell What You Learned
In your personal statement, it is not necessary to describe multiple dramatic events of your life in detail. For example, admissions committees don’t want to read all about your humanitarian trip to Africa. Instead, focus on one piece of your trip by describing a poignant lesson that you learned or tell a brief story about a wonderful person you met while you were there who will continue to impact you for the rest of your life.
If you haven’t gone on any life-changing trips, tell a story about what may seem like a normal, everyday experience, relationship, or challenge, that instead turned out to be something that significantly changed you or changed the way you view the world and it’s people.
2. What Admissions Committees Look For
Admission committees are looking for unique essays that demonstrate a student has critical thinking, reasoning, and analysis skills. They are looking for students that have a deep desire to learn and grow by taking advantage of the things they experience, or in some cases, endure. Again, the story or experience you choose for your essay does not have to be amazingly exciting or dramatic. Use this opportunity to show the committee who you are and what makes you unique.
Your essay should be written in your voice and should humbly, yet confidentially, reflect your personality and strengths. Avoid complicated language or big words that distract from your voice. Moreover, do not embellish your essay and have integrity as you write. You will not persuade any committee to choose you if you make up stories in an attempt to impress them. Avoid being too casual or overconfident in your writing by using inappropriate or egotistical language or poor grammar and syntax.
Make sure your essay is unique to you and not written by a parent or friend. Never plagiarize an essay that was written by someone else.
When drawing a conclusion in your personal statement, make sure it is redeeming. This means that you succinctly discuss what you learned and why you chose to be changed for the better instead of justifying bad behavior or blaming someone else for your weaknesses.
3. Customize and Show a Little Extra Love
Take some time to customize and tailor each school application essay that you submit. This does not mean you have to write a separate essay for each school, but take a bit to explain why you have a special interest in each school and include it in your essay. For example, you may want to discuss a particular program or area of research a school specializes in that particularly interests you.
4. Ace Your Personal Statement
The following guidelines will help you determine what to write about in your personal statement:
- Take some time to discuss with those closest to you your abilities and personal strengths that set you apart from others. When you are alone, spend some time evaluating your future goals.
- Do not speak in generalities in your personal statement, instead, use specific examples.
- Act and write professionally. Use complete sentences and explain statements that you make.
- Have those closest to you review your personal statement to make sure it accurately reflects your personality.
- Set aside enough time to prepare your personal statement. It is also a good idea to review and read through your essay numerous times before submitting.
- Make sure your personal statement flows and your transitions between paragraphs are smooth.
Letters of Recommendation: Find Your Fans
Some schools require students to include letters of recommendation with their application. Choose teachers or administrators from your high school, or prominent community leaders that had a chance to get to know you personally. Letters from these individuals will stand out. It is also helpful to ask and get a commitment from letter of recommendation writers long before application deadlines, so they have enough time to prepare a good letter for you.
A Word of Advice
Some schools ask parents to submit letters of recommendation for their children. This can be difficult for parents since there are many aspects they may want to highlight about their child. It is best if your parents list a few qualities and provide specific examples to illustrate them. They could also discuss how you overcame a weakness or difficult problem.
Remind your parents to not be overenthusiastic. All parents like to talk about their children’s achievements and abilities, but it will not impress admission committees if they overdo it.
If you have a blemish on your academic record, or were involved with a school disciplinary or legal action, it is best to take ownership and disclose this to the admission committee. This would usually come in the form of an addendum in your application materials. In this addendum, you can explain the factors that led to the problem. Use discretion when explaining what happened and avoid making excuses at all costs. You would not want to use lack of motivation as an excuse and you definitely do not want to paint yourself as a victim of any situation. You can, however, explain what actions you took to correct the mistake or problem and why it will not happen again in the future.
Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts and Google
Since most students regularly use social media sites, blogs, and forums, some admission committee members will take time to review what you have posted on the internet. Before submitting your application, review everything you have posted on the internet. Take time to google your name and see what comes up. If anything comes up that is inappropriate or would make you look bad to an admissions committee, do what you can to remove it.
Preparing for The College Interview
Certain schools schedule interviews with potential applicants. If you are really interested in attending the school, it is a good idea to attend the interview. Before the interview, take some time to prepare with friends, your parents, or school counselors. You might want to practice discussing your personal and academic strengths and why you are interested in the particular school. Solidify talking points that you have thought through and that you know will clearly communicate your personality and life experiences. This preparation will help you feel at ease during your actual interview.