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The Art of Standing Out: Expert Tips for College Application Success

Millions of high school students apply to colleges and universities in the USA and the UK each year. How do you stand out among your peers?

Written by

Sigrid Kenmuir

As you transition from high school into college or university, the importance of standing out in the application process cannot be overemphasised. With an increasingly competitive admissions process, students need to ensure that their application stands out from those of their peers. We understand the need for students to be properly equipped for this process. Here are our top ten tips on how to stand out from the crowd in your college application.

1. Start early.

Early preparation is key to giving your application the edge. Students should begin planning as early as grade 10 or sophomore year, if possible. This will give them enough time to research colleges, develop a strong academic record, and participate in extracurricular activities. Make sure you know both the early and regular application deadlines for any colleges and universities you’re planning to apply to. These can be distributed throughout the year, and you don’t want to miss them.

2. Choose a unique extracurricular activity. 

Colleges want to see students who are not just academically strong but also well-rounded. It’s essential to choose extracurricular activities that align with your interests and showcase your unique skills. Students can consider joining a debate team, starting a club, volunteering, or pursuing a passion project. Even better, extracurricular activities like iX LaunchPad are designed to help you find out more about the career you’re interested in while giving you real-world experience and showing college admissions administrators that you are invested in your future. Here are some pointers for talking about your extracurricular activities in your applications.

3. Pursue leadership roles.

Colleges seek students who have leadership skills and can contribute to the campus community positively. Students can stand out by taking up leadership roles in clubs, sports teams, or community organisations. These roles can demonstrate qualities such as responsibility, initiative, and teamwork. When you have the chance to work in teams, make sure you note down differences in leadership styles and learn which you respond well to. Then, when you have the chance to lead, seek feedback from your team on your own leadership style and work on any criticism they give you. This is how you hone your leadership abilities.

4. Showcase community involvement.

Colleges value community involvement and want to admit students who demonstrate a commitment to making a positive impact on things outside of their circle of family and friends. Students can stand out by volunteering in their community, participating in charity events, or engaging in advocacy work. For those in religious communities, this could mean volunteering at your place of worship. For others, it might look like volunteering at an animal shelter or a soup kitchen. Make sure that you volunteer somewhere that aligns with your interests so that your involvement is authentic.

5. Write a compelling personal statement.

A personal statement is an opportunity for students to showcase their personality, passion, and motivation for attending college. Students should take time to brainstorm and write a compelling personal statement that sets them apart from other applicants. It can feel extremely tough to put a personal statement together at age 16, 17, or 18 – don’t worry, we’ve all been there. What admissions committees are looking for in your personal statement is a glimpse into your motivations, your personality, and your imagined future outside of the bland information in your application. Think of it as preparing to write cover letters for job applications. Your personal statement is your personal cover letter.

6. Pursue challenging coursework.

Colleges want to admit students who are academically prepared for the rigours of college coursework. Students should take challenging classes, such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses or Dual Enrollment, to demonstrate their academic readiness. Make sure you know the requirements for the courses or faculties you’re applying for – some require certain high school classes over others. Try to ensure you have a good balance of advanced classes and ones you know you can do well in, keeping your average grade or GPA up.

7. Seek out letters of recommendation.

Letters of recommendation can provide a personal perspective on a student's character and academic ability, over and above their own assertions. Work on seeking out letters of recommendation from teachers, counsellors, or community leaders who can speak to your strengths and give an extra point of view on your application. This is also a great way to learn about your own strengths and weaknesses and work towards amplifying the former and strengthening the latter.

8. Attend college fairs and information sessions.

Attending college fairs and information sessions can provide students with valuable insights into colleges' admission requirements, programmes, and culture. Students should take advantage of these opportunities to gather information and ask questions. A supercharged way of doing this is by attending Summer Springboard. Not only can you learn more about one of two incredible US universities, you’ll also experience first-hand what life is like living on campus while exploring a potential future career.

9. Create a professional online presence.

Colleges may review applicants' online presence – such as social media profiles – to gain a better understanding of their character and values. Students should create a professional online presence that showcases their positive qualities and interests. If there are social profiles you wish college admissions don’t see, make sure your privacy settings are strong, then work on the visible ones, ensuring they send the message that you wish to share. Look into opening a profile on a professional network like LinkedIn. It’s a great place to showcase your achievements without cluttering up your personal social networks.

10. Apply to a range of colleges.

Don’t limit yourself to just a few colleges. Apply to a range of colleges that align with your interests, academic profile, and career goals. This increases your chances of being accepted into a college that’s the right fit for you. Make sure you know what the costs are for your applications, but apply to as many colleges and universities as you can to spread your risk. You never know which one might turn out to be the right one for you and – best case scenario! – you’ll get accepted to several and be able to make your choice.

Supercharge your summer with Summer Springboard.

Looking for ways to expand your extracurricular repertoire or learn more about potential future careers? Apply for Summer Springboard. Both the hybrid on-campus and online programmes are designed to give you a window into a future-focused career while giving you a chance to gain real-world work experience. The on-campus experience also includes enrichment activities in topics such as College Admissions, Public Speaking, Community Service, and others, as well as the opportunity to expand your personal network and even make lifelong friends. 

Standing out from the crowd in college applications requires intentional and early preparation. Focus on developing a unique and well-rounded profile that showcases your academic, extracurricular, and personal achievements. With these ten tips, we hope you’re able to improve your chances of being admitted to your desired colleges and universities. 

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