The best colleges aren’t just looking for students with 4.0 GPAs and high test scores. After all, just about every person applying to an IVY league university boasts these qualifications. If you truly want to make an impression on admissions committees, you’ll also need a strong college admissions profile.
Along with showcasing your ability to commit to a hobby or passion, your admissions profile is the glue that will hold your college application together. Your admission profile will help convey who you are as an individual, in a way that grades can’t. The following are 5 ways to that you can build and strengthen your admissions profile:
Time and again, admission officers from the most selective colleges cite leadership as a major factor in their decision-making. Leadership figures in the Common App activities list, as a University of California essay question, and in several college-specific supplementary questions. You’re likely to run into the L-word in most successful Ivy League applications.
While it alone will not make or break an application, leadership does give a profile an extra edge over applicants with similar academic standing. And why shouldn’t it? It demonstrates personal character, conscientiousness, and the ability to work with others. Not to mention, those who lead in school might continue to do so in college and even later on in their careers, which is exactly how universities want to groom their students!
Of course, talking about leadership on your profile is easier said than done. Officers want to see solid proof of meaningful leadership in your school or your community. Here, meaningful is the key word. You need to show some level of sustained leadership in a specific activity, and show your journey guiding others toward an achievement. This means that you can’t expect to write deeply about a leadership position you coveted right before turning in your application!
So how does one become a leader? When should you start looking for leadership roles? Where will you find these roles? And what do these activities look like?
If you’re continuing to read this article, chances are you are willing to challenge yourself for the better. More power to you!
The first thing to do is to hold on to the answers to your questionnaire. Having your motivations clear and being reminded of them in times of adversity is necessary toward realising your goals.
Now, it’s important for you to avoid pedestalizing the words ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’. Understand that they refer to a very simple idea that everyone is capable of performing. We propose to you the following definition of leadership: A leader is someone helps others and themselves achieve a common goal. That’s it!
Consider the following scenario: You are responsible for planning a movie trip involving 10 friends. You have to communicate to all of them the show timings, venue, and collect the money to buy the tickets. If you successfully manage to get everyone to pay up and arrive on time, you’ve demonstrated leadership! Making the idea of leadership less burdensome will help you imagine yourself as a leader. You need to believe it to be it!
Now that you have accepted yourself as a leader in the making, perform the following steps to convert your goals into reality.
Like everything else on a college profile, having a meaningful leadership experience is a step by step process. This means first understanding your interests, talents and abilities, and taking them forward to contribute to the growth of others along with yourself.
Use your questionnaire response and write down everything you’re interested in; this can perhaps even serve as a first draft to your activities list. Include sports, quizzing, theatre, music, academic competitions, learning languages or civic engagement. As long as you can find a few others who’re interested in working with you, there are leadership opportunities for virtually any activity under the sun!
It’s never too early to begin consistently engaging in an activity you like. Academic pressure will peak in the middle of Grade 11 with school exams and standardized tests. Try to use your summer after Grade 10 to select your activities. Boost an activity in which you are already involved. Especially in matters of leadership, quality precedes quantity. Think of it in this way: an admissions officer is more likely to value an activity with over three years of engagement than 10 activities with less than six months of work.
Some activities offer more structured leadership opportunities than others. Varsity sports, for instance, tend to have a clear hierarchy that’s decided by the school coach. Securing a sports captainship is self-explanatory when it comes to demonstrating leadership. Being a part of the theatre club or MUN committee and working your way toward being the President or Chairperson is also a sign of long-term engagement and leadership aptitude. Join a club and notice what it takes to rise up the ranks. Work directly under current office bearers and begin taking responsibilities; it pays to be a useful person. Take note of the school’s calendar for participation in external fests and competitions, and help facilitate these events. Propose new outlets for the club’s publicity. Take charge of the social media page, or make promotion videos for their YouTube channel. Help others become better at the activity; creating opportunities for others can in turn be a leadership opportunity for you!
That said, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t secure a leadership position in school! Here’s an example. Take your sporting talent outside school. Liaise with your neighbourhood NGO and figure out if you can coach low income students once a week. If you can manage to train enough kids, perhaps begin a sporting tournament! Maybe take it a step further and figure out if a local sports store is willing to sponsor basic sporting equipment for the NGO. Put some work into finding sponsors, and make the tournament into a fundraiser! Such a plan of action has very strong deliverables: you’re taking time out to hone sporting talents of young kids, you’re providing them with better equipment, and you’re raising money for a non-profit. This demonstrates your conscientiousness, your entrepreneurial skills, your interest in social welfare, and of course, your personal sporting talent!
Similarly, if there’s an activity for which there isn’t a club at your school, draft a proposal and get more people interested! Being a Founder of a club certainly speaks to leadership potential, but make sure to demonstrate your club’s significant growth as well. That is key. Invite eminent guest speakers and professionals to your school to promote your activity. Organize inter-school events to put your club in the limelight.
Creating leadership opportunities can be more difficult than entering pre-existing leadership structures, but it certainly is very rewarding. It requires extensive planning, sometimes over months. So be prepared to put in that much time. Again, begin early! Take your summer out to chart a plan for your big project. Integrate multiple stake-holders (like schools, non-profits and corporates) into your activity to make it larger and more meaningful. Start by using your connections with your parents, relatives, teachers and coaches at school. If you’re working with an NGO, be diligent, responsible and humble. Seeking some mentorship while planning your projects is also useful to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward!
The pressure of being a leader might get overbearing, especially if you don’t identify as one. The trick is not to think of it as some personality trait that’s inherent, because it is not. Instead, focus on planning and executing tasks that simply involve more than one person. It’s all about sticking to the task at hand, planning ahead, and remaining positive when under pressure.
And lastly, have a wider sense of imagination. Think of a new activity in which you would want many people to participate that would benefit everyone, and work toward making it come true. As illustrated in the tournament fundraiser example, your activity can be anything and can potentially involve anyone. But be sure not to imagine barriers in the way of your dreams. 50% of all problem-solving is just asking the right person! So sharpen your email etiquettes while you’re at it!
Business administration and management has been and continues to be one of the most popular undergraduate majors in US colleges. A correlated trend is the increase in entrepreneurship-related resources and programs on US campuses. After all, more and more students are dreaming of founding the next unicorn startup, and their ideas and talents are also drawing the attention of incubators, private investors and venture capitalists. Colleges are also interested in taking on board incoming freshmen who are literally enterprising. All in all, it seems like a good time to be in business!
That said, it’s still not easy to navigate the deep waters of running your own company, much less presenting your entrepreneurial side to admissions officers in a convincing manner. So, here is a guide that will hopefully give you some direction in trying to build a solid entrepreneurship portfolio.
There’s no way to actually sell yourself as an aspiring entrepreneur other than starting an actual business. Of course, nobody is asking you to set up a large-scale venture with complex supply chain units. Start with an idea, and start small. Use the mini-questionnaire to figure out the closest entrepreneurship-related opportunities to you. Find team members with whom you can collaborate, or a mentor who can guide you with the technicalities and real world problem-solving. It’s good to have a support system with any kind of intensive portfolio building.
If you find yourself completely alone, there are a bunch of resources available online for free to help you get started. Both Coursera and EdX have specialization courses on entrepreneurship at beginner’s level. You will find similar content on Startup India’s website, spearheaded by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Startup India also has an online guidebook on topics like the startup ecosystem, company registration and legal considerations for entrepreneurs when launching a startup.
Do you have a business idea and feel confident about going out in the world looking for some investment, even if it comes from your parents or distant family relatives? Great! Get started on formulating your business plan. A business plan is a very important document that is basically a snapshot of your startup’s basic capital requirements, operations, marketing plans and fiscal projections. It can be daunting to formulate a business plan but it will help you and your potential investors have confidence in your startup. Check out some free online resources on how to write a business plan.
If you’re looking for a more formal exposure to entrepreneurship with some direct mentorship and guidance, there are a few courses available to high school students. The most prestigious of the lot is the TiE Young Entrepreneur program (TYE High School). This course spans across nine months and teaches students aged between 14 and 19 concepts such as lean canvas, innovation and design thinking. Furthermore, it’s a good platform to meet like-minded people and make good connections with industry professionals who provide invaluable mentorship. The course also ends with a competition where you get to pitch your business plan to a panel.
The Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a similar program that runs across several cities in India. Mentors meet students every week and help them prepare their business plans, pitches and networks. The course ends with an opportunity for participants to present their ideas at the YEA! Trade Show in Mumbai, where they stand a chance to win cash prizes and earn international recognition for their business ideas.
There are a few business plan competitions where you can showcase your entrepreneurial talent as well. India’s Future Tycoons is one that’s primarily geared toward high school students, and is in its second edition. They declare themes for their competition, in which 24 teams fight it out to win awards worth Rs 15,00,000. There are several more professional and highly competitive business plan competitions that don’t set an age or experience bar for its participants, like the Tata Social Enterprise Challenge and the Eureka, which is conducted by IIT Bombay’s Entrepreneurship Cell. Eureka also has parallel competition called Eureka Junior, that allows students in Grades 6 to 10 to present their business ideas and compete with each other.
Another great opportunity to further your and your peers’ entrepreneurship education is through LaunchX school clubs. LaunchX is a prestigious international entrepreneurship curriculum targeted at high school students from across the world that enables them to come up with and execute their business ideas. While LaunchX has its own annual summer program in the US, it also imparts its curriculum through school clubs, where students undergo an intensive learning experience in startup building over a period of nine months. If your school has a LaunchX club, enroll yourself as soon as possible and start working on a business idea! If it doesn’t, apply to open a LaunchX club for you school, of which you could be the President! LaunchX not only provides clubs with a curriculum but also assigns mentors to ensure its members are on track toward rigorous developing viable business ideas. The curriculum ends with the international Demo Day, an event where clubs from across the world compete to present their ideas and learnings from the LaunchX curriculum.
Ultimately, the best education in starting a business is to actually start one. Your learnings and reflection from running your own business, regardless of its success or failure, will significantly guide a university’s interest in your profile. But with these resources, you can make sure that you have all the support you need through mentors and like-minded peers. At the same time, these resources will help you develop a lively extracurricular profile that speaks to your strong academic and professional interests in entrepreneurship. Keep in mind to continually integrate other parts of your academic profile with your extracurricular work to build a strong overall impression on college admissions officers. Don’t isolate your passion into a purely academic or professional pursuit, but learn to imbue it with your unique socio-political perspective to make for a truly compelling portrait.
Internships are a tricky business for high schoolers for a few reasons. Very few pre-existing internship positions are usually available and are often created based on connections. They are mostly unstructured, meaning you perform all kinds of tasks as and when they come up. And lastly, they are difficult to talk about meaningfully in your college applications because -- let’s face it -- you cannot pretend to know everything about a business after just a few weeks of unstructured work.
That said, having a solid internship experience can make your application stand out, precisely because of its inaccessibility. Undertaking an internship doesn’t just illustrate your professional interests. It is a chance to demonstrate your work ethic. More importantly, it shows your determination to create opportunities for your career growth.
It’s also a great addition to your activities list and a chance to acquire a solid letter of recommendation. As long as it is not negatively impacting your academic performance, a good internship will tend to boost your profile.
Take a few minutes to write responses to the following questions. The aim is to help you better understand your current professional interests.
Keep your responses in mind as you read this guide. You might realise you already know ways of unlocking a solid internship experience!
You should approach internships primarily as an opportunity to expose yourself to the professional world. Since they’re scarce and mostly involve spontaneous work, don’t expect an internship to neatly fit with your stated interests. Admission officers certainly don’t expect it too!
A good internship is one where there is some affinity between your interests and the workspace. If you’re interested in computer science, working even at the administrative section of a software engineering firm will give you an idea of project development and technologies in this domain. If your interest lies in business, helping out with a start-up’s Facebook page will also expose you to the client relations aspect of entrepreneurship. Are you planning to major in literature? There is abundant scope to work even in a sector like financial services by writing their marketing copy!
Any kind of work will have multiple departments and teams attached to it, so be open to finding your area of interest at any place. This is essential to create a good internship opportunity.
A good internship is also substantial, even if unstructured. Often you will discover what your internship comprises only as and when you get more work. You cannot be seen taking a professional opportunity or your school coursework lightly, so try to pursue internships only during your summer or winter breaks. There is no set rule about duration, but try to hit at least a good four weeks, working full hours.
Begin with a quick internet search on portals for internship opportunities in your city. Who knows; it could be your lucky day!
Once you realize that almost no firm is willing to formally hire high schoolers into their organizations, and understandably so, start approaching your parents, relatives, friends, and acquaintances. Maybe you have an uncle who works in a university and is willing to let you help him out with some research. Maybe your aunt runs a start-up that could use an extra hand. Perhaps your parents’ colleagues could take you on in their respective departments. Chances are you’re likely to find an internship only through these routes. Don’t directly intern under your parents; they can’t be the ones employing you and writing a letter of recommendation
Are you enthusiastic about the prospect of working for an organization that doesn’t have any internship opportunities? Turn in your resume and a persuasive cover letter! Be prepared for rejection, but also keep your fingers crossed; you may end up impressing someone with your passion!
If you have secured an internship, congratulations! It’s time to start building a work ethic that will make or break your experience. Task one is to understand the basic tenets of professionalism. Arrive on time. Dress for the job. Be highly attentive. Learn how to write work emails. And don’t be afraid to seek help.
In case you have received a structured workflow from your supervisor, you’re one of the lucky ones. If you’re like the rest and are twiddling your thumbs every now then, waiting for your employer to have the time to assign you work, hang in there. A good strategy is to enquire as much as possible about the work you will be doing before you start the internship. Briefly explain to your supervisor your interests, but also show your flexibility and willingness to perform any task that comes your way. You may not get a detailed response, but you will have shown initiative.
Once your internship begins, continue showing initiative to enable your supervisor to trust you with an increased workload. Making your internship substantial is primarily about demonstrating a strong work ethic rather than trying to significantly contribute to the organization. After all, you’re a high schooler who is only around for a few weeks. Showing that you are willing to grind it through is all you need to elicit a strong letter of recommendation from your employer.
Speaking of which, don’t bluntly ask for a recommendation letter as soon as your internship is over! Be sure to first ask for an exit interview where you get an impression of your performance from your employer. If they are happy with your work -- and they better be! -- politely ask if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. A Letter of Recommendation will document your performance and may come in handy for your college applications and future employment positions. Your employer knows you want one, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Lastly, take time to reflect on all that you have learned. Begin integrating your experience with your overall profile. If the experience has further fuelled your passion in that career path, great! If you think you might want a different profession, this will still have been a solid learning experience. Present it so on your college application!
“Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies” by EdX, “Foundations of Public Health” by Coursera, “Industrial Robotics” by Udemy — these are some very popular (and free) courses available on the internet all year round. The phenomenon of online courses has significantly picked up over the past few years with more and more high school students enrolling in and including their courses in their college profile. You too may be considering joining the bandwagon and wondering if it's worth it. So, let’s analyze what these courses are and how impactful they can be.
Online courses are like regular college courses, but they differ in two important ways. First, most online courses do not award you credit. Second, they tend to be self-paced, i.e., you can enrol in one anytime and schedule the course lessons and assessment according to your convenience.
There are only a handful of online courses out there that offer university credits (more on that later). Many of the courses available have free enrolment, with the added option of a ‘verified certificate’. This means that platforms like Coursera and EdX check that you have covered the entire course content and the assessment modules to a satisfactory level for a fee.
These courses are primarily meant to demonstrate your interests and your learning drive. You should search for topics that interest you. Maybe it is a topic you’re already covering in school, but the course goes deeper into the subject. Maybe it’s a topic your school doesn’t offer, and you’re interested in taking it up. Many students take courses on disciplines they mention as their intended major on their college application form. It’s not a bad idea, but don’t feel free to be bound by it either.
The course should ideally be challenging. Doing a course with college-level rigor or one which puts you out of your comfort zone doesn’t only give you a solid learning experience, but also allows you to construct a narrative out of that experience. How would you go about building such a narrative?
Here’s an example. Let’s say you take computer science in school and it’s your intended major for college. There are several beginner level online courses on programming, the contents of which are perhaps already covered in your school curriculum. Try to stay away from such courses.
On the other hand, you may pursue topics like “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence”, or take a more interdisciplinary route through “Computational Social Science Methods”. Such courses include several new topics that you would probably not be covering in your major classes. They will also open you up to multiple subfields, thus giving you a very nuanced perspective on your discipline. You can also demonstrate your interest in a particular subfield while applying to colleges, which may have faculty specializing in that area. Basing your choice according to such a rationale will provide you with ample scope to show how you’ve been pushing the boundaries of your academic interests, which is a question that you will have to answer time and again in college-specific supplementary essays!
Here’s another example. You’re interested in the humanities or the social sciences, but you missed out on being able to take mathematics in your 11th and 12th grades, a subject that’s often seen as essential toward demonstrating curricular rigor. Register for a course like "Introduction to Mathematical Thinking" or "Methods and Statistics in Social Sciences". This is an opportunity for you to accept a shortcoming in your academic profile and demonstrate that you have taken steps to make up for it!
Online courses are about boosting your academic standing. Summers are a great time to enroll in and complete these courses. Taking these courses should complement your school performance and standardized test scores. Don’t load yourself with these courses during your midterm or final term exams, or during test dates! Space these courses out, and certainly avoid haphazardly finishing a bunch of these courses right before the application deadline!
Regarding the number of courses, try to be both sincere and prudent in your motivation toward completing online courses. Doing too many of these mindlessly will not make for a compelling academic narrative. As always, quality trumps quantity. ‘Specializations’ are another compelling but time-consuming option. They are a curation of multiple courses on one topic. They're often rigorous and demanding, but completing one will certainly demonstrate deep academic interest. But no decision should interfere with your school grades and standardized test scores—they should be your foremost priority.
If possible, you should try to purchase the course to get this certificate. Given the number of free-to-enrol courses out there, it certainly helps to furnish proof that you have taken your online learning seriously. You can also use it as evidence and get it mentioned in your letters of recommendation!
Certification fees vary across courses and platforms. Some Coursera courses also offer financial aid, which requires filling out an additional form for verification. Check if the course you want offers aid. That said, try not to compromise on the choice of your course!
College credits mean a lot. They are institutional proof of having met requirements for contact hours and evaluation. Having a transferable credit means that you could potentially use your online course to skip a class mandated by your university.
For example, if you have to take an Introductory Statistics class at college, but you have already completed a for-credit online course that teaches more or less the same topics, you could make a case to transfer your online credits for your college credits, thereby saving time and maybe even money!
Keep in mind that it is the discretion of your future college if they will transfer credits for your online courses. They need to agree that the content and evaluation meets their standards to let you skip a class. These courses are also college-level, which means they’re more demanding and likely to be more expensive.
That said, getting your hands on a relevant for-credit university course has immense inherent value. EdX has a few available. Cornell offers some for-credit courses during the summer session that allow high school students to enroll. These courses are relatively rare and take place during a restricted period. However, given the rise in synchronous online learning, other universities may soon follow suit and provide more for-credit courses to high schoolers during their summer sessions. Do your due diligence and keep an eye out for such courses!
Remember, every part of your application helps paint a larger picture of you. Work on these individual pieces wisely to construct a compelling academic and personal narrative!
Take your time to clarify your interests through these questions. What follows is a more general process toward building a great CS portfolio, but you need to go a step further and add a highly personalized edge to better reflect your individual story.Your questionnaire responses will guide you in that process and make your profile honest and more persuasive.
If you’re eyeing CS as a major, this is probably something you’re doing anyway through coursework or as a hobby. Be on top of your school curriculum and pick up basic object-oriented and web development languages. Preparing to take the APComputer Science A exam is also a great idea. While it won’t be sufficient to make you a competitive candidate for top-tier CS schools like UC Berkeley orStanford, getting a good score (3+) on it will help to demonstrate academic commitment. Udemy’s free “Decoding AP Computer Science A” course is a good self-study tool.
Do you want to go the extra mile to up skill yourself and impress colleges? Take on harder online courses on topics outside your curriculum. Stanford’s OpenClassroom is a free online learning platform with several lectures on topics like Machine Learning and Design and Analysis of Algorithms. Coursera and EdX have several more courses on subjects like Game Programming,Cybersecurity, and Embedded Systems.
Projects are a great way to showcase your skillset and tell colleges what you do in your free time. They have more or less become an application staple when it comes to competitive CS profiles. They illustrate the applicant’s interest, aptitude, and exposure to the discipline.
For example, those who are applying to MIT are encouraged to submit a portfolio, which MIT calls the Maker Portfolio. The portfolio acts as a showcase of your skills, projects, and accomplishments. Think of it as a trophy case for everything you worked on, including websites and games. We're serious about games - there are multiple tutorials for writing your games in Python, and you can even go beyond the gaming curriculum to use graphic design programs to add unique graphics to your games. Not to say any of this is simple to accomplish, but with dedication, you can begin developing your portfolio and confirm knowledge of multiple programming languages.
For your project(s), you should also consider leveraging your programming skills toward social welfare. If you are interested in community service, which is something universities would want to know about, think about how you can code for a greater good. Are you already volunteering at a local NGO? Think about how you could improve their work by upgrading their technology, be it in their administrative, logistical, or outreach efforts. You could build them a website, or upgrade their old one to make it more efficient and user-friendly.Or perhaps you could create a small software to help them digitize their records! Another idea is to start a small computer science tutoring class to encourage STEM education among low income youth! Your contributions needn’t be on a large scale. Taking baby steps will enable you to meaningfully talk about your extracurricular engagement with computer science. It will also demonstrate a strong personal character and social commitment.
Whatever your project may be, it should stem from a genuine interest. Doing what you love will not only make for a better project, it will also make your interest in the subject more persuasive to admission officers. Never forget that your profile is ultimately about telling a college the story of you.
You need a platform to organize and present your project. Making a Squares pace or a Wix website might do the trick, but you could consider taking it a step further by making a profile on GitHub. If you’re not familiar with GitHub, it’s an open-source hosting service that uses Git, a distributed version control system, to allow programmers to work on each other’s projects. If this is sounding like a lot of jargon to you, refer to GitHub’s beginner’s guide on making a profile and repositories. The basic purpose of using GitHub is to allow college admission officers and faculty members to look at your code for your projects and show your programming skills.
GitHub is an industry standard and will also be impressive to future recruiters when you’re applying for internships. It’s also a space for making contributions to the open-source community. Search for contributions you can make with your skill set and ability level.
This point may not require much elaboration. Every programmer knows hackathons are a great way to learn, compete, collaborate, and simply have fun. In fact, attending and winning Hackathons will also gain you some currency with college admissions officers! Hackathons fundamentally show your ability to work with others in teams, something that’s not only viewed favorably in general but also considered necessary in programmers, who need to spend hours coding or developing in teams.
Participate in as many hackathons as possible! If there’s a dearth of high school participation where you live, consider founding and hosting your own event! That’s another way to show initiative and industriousness, and also a great addition to your college profile!
There are several other routes to building a solid portfolio, like getting a CS-related internship, joining the computing club, or being a part of the robotics team.Following these tips will go a long way in making your CS portfolio stand out, and give a truly competitive edge to your application. Keep in mind that while it’s great to have a substantial CS portfolio, colleges will also evaluate you holistically, meaning they will look for more than a sustained interest in a discipline. Remember to be creative in how you engage with CS. This will allow you to present a more complex picture of your passion, which is something colleges actively look for.