They say that you only get one chance to make a first impression. If you’re reading this, then congrats! You’ve already made your first impression on me! (Unless you skipped the introduction.)
When it comes to college applications, though, making an impact is not so easy. There are so many ways in which your application can be flawed or lacking; practically everything about yourself is up for scrutiny. College admissions officers will look closely at how well-rounded your interests are, whether or not you included their school’s name in your list of colleges. They’ll even take into account what activities you did four years ago just because they happened to list them under “extracurriculars” and think to themselves, “Why did they include that?”
Of course, college admissions officers are not the only people considering your application. Your teachers and guidance counselors will also be involved in the process of reading your essay because colleges usually ask them for their opinions. Then there’s you yourself who needs to keep track of the things you wrote down on your Common Application or Coalition Application or whatever method you use to apply. You need to figure out what you want to write about, organize it into a cohesive story, and then write it within certain word limits while still sounding like yourself! This can be really tough when there are so many other applicants doing everything in their power just to get into one school – but let me tell you from experience that it is so worth it in the end.
So how do you get in? All of these challenges can be daunting, which is why I created a checklist to help with your quest for that perfect college application. It won’t guarantee that you’ll get into your top school, but if you’ve been struggling to think of what else there is to write about on your application, then maybe this list will offer some good ideas. And even if it doesn’t, at least you’ll have a neat-looking checklist to show off!
Are You a Standout Applicant?
This question seems like a no-brainer – “Of course I’m a standout applicant!” But hold up for a second. Look again at the question and notice that it says “applicant.” Not only are you being judged as an applicant, but also as a person. While there are some basic things that your application needs to have (i.e. grades, activities, etc.), if that’s all there is then colleges will just look at your transcript rather than read your essay.
What do I mean by being more than just an applicant? Colleges want to see how you tick – not just your school spirit on display for them on the tour or in their information session, but what kind of person you are on a personal level. They’ll be looking for clues about who you are through your writing because no matter how many times they hear “She’s a great student – her favorite class is AP Chem!” from tour guides, they won’t really know you until they read your essay.
If there are activities you don’t particularly enjoy or skills that you wish to improve upon, then definitely write about those. Colleges want to see what makes you tick so they can better understand who you are as a person and how that will translate into a well-rounded college student. You don’t need to go into detail about what kind of tofu dish you made for the vegan club bake sale (unless that happened to be one of your extracurriculars). Focus on things that define who you are as a person outside of school rather than inside school. What do you like to do? What are you passionate about?
If you’re still having trouble figuring out how to show colleges who you are, then imagine them reading your application. What do they want to know more about after they’ve finished the application? That’s probably where you should focus your essay. Also, think about what makes YOU a standout applicant. If there is something that makes you really unique (and not in an “I like to dye my hair with Kool-Aid” kind of way), then definitely include it. And if your parents really want to see their alma mater on your college list, include some information about this so this school knows why they should consider admitting you even if it isn’t high up on your list!
By doing all of this, colleges will have a better idea about who you are as a person and how you would fit in to their community. And sometimes it’s actually not what you write but HOW you write. Remember, colleges are reading your essay so don’t forget to have fun with your writing!