Guidelines for effective college application

Admission officers look for students who are studious, smart, passionate and ambitious. Colleges want students who show genuine interest in their institution and who are open to new opportunities and are willing to accept new challenges. The basic point of a college application is to show the officer how the candidate is different from other college aspirants, and how the applicant stands out in a positive, memorable and unique way.

What looks good on an application varies depending on the college.

In general, a well-rounded college application will include good and consistent grades, an honest personal statement/essay, a unique extracurricular activity, community service, letters of recommendation and work experience.

Grades – High school grades, SAT/ACT scores

The first thing that colleges look for are your grades. Typically, an average grade in a tough AP class is given more importance than an A in an easy class. A good SAT/ACT score also sets you apart from the rest.

While it is important to have good grades, it is not the only thing that determines your admission. Grades and scores are needed to get you on the competitive playing fields, but once you are on the field, what sets you apart from the others? 

Sometimes, in a large pool of extremely well qualified candidates, colleges are most interested in finding students who have researched their institution sufficiently to be able to demonstrate a clear understanding of the synergy that exists between their grades and the university. 

Personal Statement/Essays

A personal statement tells colleges about the applicant. The personal statement connects the dots in the application. Connecting the dots is the second most important step, because it creates a picture of who you are and what you have to offer. Colleges look for 3 things in your essay – honesty, specificity and eloquence.

Colleges want to know more about the applicant, they want to learn about the applicant beyond their grades and extracurricular activities, and essays help them with that. The best way to get a clear picture of the student’s goals, achievements and character is to hear it directly from the student. The most efficient way to write an essay/personal statement is to write information that is unique – something that cannot be found anywhere else on the application.

Various colleges ask different questions that serve the purpose of an essay. These specific questions should be answered in a specific, clear and concise manner. At the end of the day, colleges want you to take the opportunity to learn about and build relationships with the institution seriously. In conclusion, in your essay, colleges are looking for candidates to go beyond demonstrating interest, by your words and deeds, that you belong.

Extracurricular activities

Extracurriculars are one of the most important factors that colleges look at seriously besides your grades. Almost all colleges want to know what extracurricular activities you do in your spare time. 

Colleges do not want to know all the activities that you have participated in or what you have shown mild interest in. They want to know 2-3 activities that you are passionate about and if you have any major achievements in them.

Extracurriculars do not necessarily have to be sports. For example, if you are a Biology major, extracurriculars can also mean being a part of your school’s biology club, which can bolster your application. If you don’t have something that makes you stand out, then take some time and figure out what interests you and what could augment your application.

Community Service

Colleges are big on communities and giving back to your community. When they look at your application, they want to see how you have impacted and contributed to your community. Volunteering and community service is one way they gauge this.

Colleges want to see if the applicant has brought about a considerable change in their community by community service, which means that the applicants should make a positive impact through their volunteering efforts. Fundraisers, teaching underprivileged kids, hosting events etc are the most common types of community service.

Letters of recommendation

Most colleges require letters of recommendations from your high school counsellor or a teacher, sometimes both. A preferred recommendation would be from a teacher who knows your capabilities, in and out of the classroom. Typically, colleges require a recommendation from a teacher who has taught a core class (Math, English, science etc). 

It is also best to get recommendations in classes that you have fared well in. In addition, receiving a recommendation from a class that you might major in is the best boost your application can get. 

Work experience

Work experience is not as important as the other factors, but it will make your application stand out positively. You are not expected to work part time in high school, but the qualities that work experience highlights are your sense of responsibility, maturity and willingness to work for your goals. One of the things that colleges might look for will be your reasons for taking the job, and what values it taught you. This would help colleges understand what you have to offer.

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