Inside Admissions

Letting Schools Know Who You Are

As the competitive nature of higher education continues to grow, it’s not enough to have great grades and test scores. After a long day of reading through applications of students that look just like you, what will catch the eye of an college admissions officer? What will set you apart from the rest of your fellow students enough to make them say, “this student belongs here.”

The answer? Extracurriculars.

What are they? Any activity or interest that you have chosen to devote your spare time to. This can be things you do in or out of school.

Most of your college application can be dwindled down to numbers – except for two things: your essay and your extracurricular activities. While you may only be limited to 500 words in some cases, this is the part where you get to show what makes you unique. This may mean talking about a situation in your life where you demonstrated a certain skill or overcame an obstacle, or a discipline that you’re passionate about.

Institutions just want to know who you are. So, here are some tips to remember when trying to convince admissions officers why it should be you they say yes to.

Don’t spread yourself too thin

Being really active with school or after-school activities is great, but it’s hard to understand the person who does everything. When you’re an underclassman, it’s important to explore things to get a feel for what your interests are. But once, you’ve figured out what you like best- pick just a few and stick to them! We don’t mean to say you should put in less effort, but it is more efficient to dedicate your time to a few things and really excel in those areas. This shows focus, passion and time management skills – demonstrating you can keep a healthy balance between activities and school. If you try to do too many things, your grades and/or well-being may suffer as a result. Universities want to know what’s really important to you. Help them get to know you better by dedicating yourself to what you really love.

Don’t be afraid to show off

It’s important to remember that you may never meet the people who decide whether or not you get into a university. In most cases, you won’t know each other. While humility is an admirable quality and there is something to be said for those who are arrogant about their accomplishments, don’t be afraid to show off. Tell them makes you better than the next applicant. Many people don’t finish high school – much less apply to college, you should be extremely proud of all of your achievements. So, don’t be afraid to brag a little.

Different colleges have different values

While it is the age of the Common Application, schools are not going to cross reference your applications to make sure all the answers are the same. By no means should you lie on your college application, and it is easier to write one version of your main essay and stick with it. However, different institutions (private, state-funded, jesuit, not-for-profit, etc.) value different things and look for students that value those same things. Don’t be afraid to emphasize what you think will make you a more attractive candidate. This might mean talking more about your community service work versus your time as a athlete, for example. And don’t forget – each college will likely have different supplements (extra short-essay questions) for you to answer. These will give you a better idea of what these colleges are looking for.

Apply anyway!

Educators today are encouraging students to have three tiers of university options: reach, target and safety schools. A safety school is an institution where you’re more than confident you will be accepted. It’a back-up plan – but one you would still be okay with should it be your only option. A target school is a place where you’re pretty confident you will be accepted (statistics wise) and is a good fit for you. A reach school is a university that might be a little above your caliber on paper. You’re unsure of the likelihood of your acceptance but you apply because it’s a dream school. We admit, statistics are scary. Maybe there’s a school you always hoped to attend – but when researching it, you realize that your grades and tests scores don’t align with students that are typically accepted into the school. That’s okay! While it is important to have realistic expectations – trying and getting rejected is not going to hurt your chances of admission into any other school. And as long as you build your application as the best, possible representation of you – you have nothing left to lose! Admissions officers may fall in love with you and all the things you care about – so much that they don’t care about your test scores. Not everyone is a statistic, and you just may be the exception to the rule.