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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Creating a Cohesive Application: How to Stand Out to Adcoms

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It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the separate components of a college application and all the work that goes into making each of them as strong as possible. A significant amount of time goes into attaining a great GPA and strong test scores, but academics alone aren’t sufficient to woo a selection committee – competitive candidates also have a wealth of extracurricular activities and unique, expertly crafted essays that set them apart from other applicants. But with so many different aspects of an application to consider, one thing many students don’t consider is how to create a cohesive application that sets forth a clear, united picture of what makes them a strong candidate.

A cohesive application successfully unites an applicant’s extracurricular activities, personal experiences, and professional ambitions to create a distinct picture of who an applicant is and what they care about. Such an application demonstrates focus, passion, and competence in an area and is especially useful when applying to specialized programs in a specific field. Every student, though, can benefit from a cohesive application that clearly communicates to selection committees their interests and passions.

The first step to creating a cohesive application is to participate in activities pertinent to your interests, and select and effectively describe activities on your application that best display your interest and skill in an area. Many students fall into the trap of participating in as many extracurricular activities as they can, regardless of whether said activities actually hold any interest for them, are relevant to their career ambitions, or are a valuable use of their time. When choosing which extracurricular activities to participate in, be sure to consider whether the activity holds any relevance for your ultimate ambitions. If you’re still unsure as to what your professional goals are, which is true of many students in high school (and even in college!), try to choose activities limited to a small number of broad interests, or try a variety of activities to find out what you enjoy. While you don’t necessarily need to restrict your involvement in high school solely to activities relevant to your career, the activities you actually choose to write about on your applications should be focused in one area, or several broad areas of interest if you’re still unsure about your major.

The other component of your application that can play a large role in demonstrating your interests to colleges is the personal statement. There are several ways in which the personal statement can be utilized to display interest in an area and unite the person you are with what you have and hope to accomplish, depending on what you choose to write about in your statement.

Personal statements are often about or at least mention one or several extracurricular activities. This type of essay allows you space to expand on why you participated in the activities you did, why they were meaningful to you, why you found them interesting, and how you plan to use the skills you developed in high school in your college and professional careers that’s far less restrictive than the limited characters of the “Activities” section. An essay that describes your experience in a club, internship, charity, or other extracurricular experience can be deeply personal and engaging while still focusing largely on your ambitions.

Oftentimes essays focus more on personal experiences, rather than detailing academic or extracurricular accomplishments. When writing a personal statement of this nature, it can be difficult to relate your experiences to your ambitions without sounding contrived or disingenuous. If a genuine connection between the two exists, though, writing about it can strengthen your application enormously and demonstrate passion in a way that extracurricular activities usually cannot. For instance, if you feel your experiences as a member of a religion, ethnic or racial group, or gender have allowed you to understand prejudice and instilled in you a desire to combat discrimination through constitutional law, writing about as much in an essay provides admissions officers with a clear picture of who you are as a person, what career you aspire to, and why you’re interested in that career in particular. These essays also don’t necessarily need to relate to career interests specifically, but rather can explain how you came to be interested in a subject or discipline in general. For example, if you were raised in a Mandarin-speaking household and fascinated by the vast differences between Mandarin and English, leading you to select linguistics as your major, an essay about those experiences still demonstrates passion and offers officers a distinct understanding of who you are.

As much as this cohesion can strengthen your application, it’s important to ensure you avoid coming off as redundant. While focus in one area is ideal, you don’t want to have 10 versions of the same activity on your application, or reduce your identity to solely your interests or aspirations in the personal statement. Seek diversity within the field that interests you; rather than limiting your involvement to internships, try volunteering, attending conferences, and joining clubs too. Though your application shouldn’t feature a range of unrelated activities, participation on a sports team or in a school drama production can also showcase other aspects of your personality that aren’t directly related to your professional aspirations. Some degree of variety in activities shows colleges that while focused and passionate, you’re still capable of branching out and that you have skills beyond those developed in one area.

A cohesive application offers admissions officers a perspective on not only who you are, but also how that individuality works within the context of your academic and professional ambitions and your career. Colleges seek out candidates who are passionate, motivated, and genuinely interested in the disciplines they’re majoring in, as these students’ passion often empowers them to be the most successful among their peers. The focus that is conveyed through a cohesive application is thus extremely attractive to admissions officers and can go a long way in setting your application apart from others.


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Anamaria Lopez
Managing Editor

Short Bio
Anamaria is an Economics major at Columbia University who's passionate about sharing her knowledge of admissions with students facing the applications process. When she's not writing for the CollegeVine blog, she's studying Russian literature and testing the limits of how much coffee one single person can consume in a day.