How to Make Yourself a Unique College Applicant
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Monique Hunter in a CollegeVine Livestream. You can watch the full Livestream for more info.
- Extracurriculars: Quality Over Quantity
- Essays: the Personal Component
- Recommendations and Interviews
With so many qualified applicants who have top grades and test scores vying for a spot at the most competitive colleges and universities, how do you set yourself apart?
Extracurricular activities are one way. But that doesn’t mean you should be stacking your extracurriculars and thinking that’s how to impress the admissions officers. You should think about longevity and quality over quantity.
What do we mean by quality? If you started in ninth grade with a few extracurricular activities and you continue them into 12th grade, that’s better than starting a few extracurricular activities in ninth grade, dropping them, starting another few, dropping them, and so on. College admissions officers want to see that you’re committed to your passions, in and outside of school.
How to Choose Activities
One important thing to note is that if you work and have taken on fewer extracurriculars because of that, it won’t count against you. Just make sure to explain how you’ve been working.
When choosing extracurriculars, they should be activities that interest you. Never do something you totally despise or don’t care about. Instead, choose something that you find interesting.
One thing that will be impressive is if you’ve been a leader in these extracurricular activities—such as president or vice president in a club—or have started a new organization that didn’t previously exist at your school. This shows that you’ve taken initiative and haven’t remained in the background.
Essays are the most important personal component of the application. You should review your essays several times and have others look at them, too. Careless grammar mistakes can definitely hurt your chances of admission.
You also want to make sure you craft well-thought-out responses. That will make you unique and stand out—which is the whole point.
For example, discuss how a scenario or experience impacted you. Students who graduated in 2021, maybe even in 2022, could have talked about how the pandemic impacted them and what happened—how they overcame those challenges.
Recommendations should come from your teachers who taught you junior year in a core class like math, science, social studies, foreign language, or English. They should be from a teacher in a class where you either did very well or overcame a struggle. It’s not necessarily the one you like the most but a class where you made an impact, such as by helping another student or facing and conquering a challenge.
You’ll usually send a guidance counselor recommendation in addition to one or two teacher recommendations. The former will contextualize your high school journey, while the latter can attest to specific experiences.
Interviews are becoming less common, but if you do receive an invitation for an interview, you should take it very seriously. They’re mainly a way for colleges to get a better idea of who you are.
It’s important to realize that even making yourself unique is not a guarantee. There’s an element of luck — you can do everything in your power to stand out and still not be accepted. Perhaps the admissions officer is having a bad day, or something else happens by chance. Unfortunately, this is something you’ll need to accept when going through the admissions process. But if you do your best to showcase your talents and perspectives, you will have the best chance of being accepted.