How to make your college application stand out

Red pencil stands out from the crowd of black

Heed this advice from the experts to better your chances of receiving a letter of acceptance.

Building your college application package is like a victory lap: You’ve landed the letters of recommendation, aced the SAT, and worked hard in school and extracurricular activities. Now is the time to explain exactly what you can offer your dream school and how a college degree will help you achieve your goals.

While your application package should uniquely reflect your personality, there are some tried and true tips for making your package stand out against the competition. Heed this advice from the experts to better your chances of receiving a letter of acceptance.

Prove that you’re more than your GPA and test scores

Students can fall into the trap of simply “filling in the blanks” when it comes to completing college applications. Gina Bortel, Associate Director of Admission at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, reminds students that, “Colleges and universities like to see what students are passionate about, what drives them. The hope is that these students will bring that same passion and enthusiasm to the university and make positive contributions throughout their undergrad years.”

When it comes to talking about your passions inside and outside the classroom, details are key. State any specific projects you’ve worked on or interests that you’re passionate about, and demonstrate your commitment.

Joshua Bistromowitz, Director of Admissions at William Peace University in Raleigh, North Carolina, agrees. “Too often, students focus on trying to ‘check off’ what they think colleges are expecting from their applications,” says Bistromowitz. “By including authentic and personally enriching extracurricular activities, [admissions directors] get a more accurate view and can better predict if the applicant and the institution are a good fit.”

Talk to your admissions counselor

If you have any questions during the application process, don’t be afraid to reach out to an admissions counselor at the college you’re applying to. Admissions counselors are an often-overlooked resource, who are there to answer your questions about a college and assist you through the application process.

“Get to know your admissions counselor!” says Bistromowitz. “Your admissions counselor more than likely will be reading your application and essay and will be your strongest advocate for admissions.” Connecting with your counselor not only creates a personal connection, but you’ll also be showing extra initiative that many other students may not bother with.

Apply early

Many colleges and universities offer “early action” deadlines, which often yield higher acceptance rates than traditional deadlines. If it’s too late to get all of your applications out the door early, focus on your top one or two schools. Splitting the application load will also relieve some of the stress from sending several college applications at once.

Perfect it

Before you click “submit,” ask your high school counselor, parents, and mentors to review your application package. Proofread your essay at least three times to look for ways you can improve it — from spelling and grammar to relevant content. Finally, ask yourself: “Would I admit a student with this essay and application?” If the answer is “yes,” it’s likely time to send it in!

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