College Application Tips: How to Stand Out and Succeed
The idea of college applications may be daunting if you’re just getting started—but breaking down the process into smaller steps can help lighten the load. Here are some essential baseline tips for high-school students beginning the process of applying to colleges, to give you a strong start.
1. Starting Early:
When it comes to college applications, time is of the essence. Whether your plans for your further education involve studying abroad or attending a university in the country, it is vital to start researching your options by the time you begin your senior year of high school / Grade 12. This research process is needed to help you identify the potential colleges that would allow you to get the kind of degree you want to pursue, as well as other important considerations such as a college’s acceptance criteria, its scope for extracurriculars, its student culture, available amenities and accessibility. It is also important to look at fee structures, available scholarships and financial aid, so as to understand if a certain college would be suitable for you.
Once you’ve conducted the bulk of your research, you might have a ranked list of potential colleges that would work for you. Although there is no hard and fast rule as to how many colleges you should apply to, it’s a good idea to review the acceptance criteria for all of your potentials and estimate your chances of getting into each. If, after reviewing the criteria alongside your applications, you are fairly confident of your acceptance, then applying to 4-6 colleges is a good number to keep your options open. If many of your potential colleges have low acceptance rates, or if you’re unsure as to your chances of getting accepted or getting the required financial aid/scholarship, you might consider applying to 8 or more colleges, to be on the safe side.
2. Staying Organised:
As there are several elements and timelines to keep track of when it comes to college applications, I strongly recommend creating a master tracker. This can be done most efficiently on a spreadsheet or any sort of tabular or list-based software. Once you have your list of potential colleges, put them down in a list according to your preference, and create sections to keep track of all the different application details, deadlines and procedures for each college. Some of the key things you will need to keep in mind for each application are the deadlines to submit application forms, personal essays (or Statements of Purpose), Letters of Recommendation from your mentors, test and exam scores, and so on. Any scheduled dates for interviews and entrance tests should also be kept track of, along with any details and deadlines to apply for financial aid, if applicable to you.
3. Being Well-Rounded:
In terms of writing out the applications, there are several things you can do to make your application as attractive as possible, and increase your chances of getting into colleges. Your academics, of course, are a key factor in the vetting process, but they are not the only consideration. Most colleges are keen on taking in well-rounded applicants, and this means that your application should bring out not only your academic accomplishments, but also any achievements in extracurricular and co-curricular activities you may have under your belt.
Co-curricular activities are supplementary academic activities that you choose to pursue outside of your schooling. This can include standardised tests like the SATs and Olympiads, internships and volunteer work, and workshops, classes, clubs or competitions for skills like writing and languages, coding, debating and MUN, and so on. Co-curriculars are extremely important in showing your application reviewers the strength and direction of your academic interests and aptitudes.
Extracurriculars involve anything from sports, dance, drama and martial arts to any type of art, photography or musical pursuits you may engage in, among several other things. These are essential to allow colleges to understand what you are passionate about outside of your academic interests, and showcases your talent and drive.
4. Showing Competence:
Being meticulous when writing out your college applications is key. Although it may seem like a small concern, proofreading to avoid arbitrary errors like spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and formatting inconsistencies in your applications and essays is always a good idea. An unedited application with mistakes here and there shows laziness and incompetence, even if the content of your application is stellar. Taking some extra time to proofread and edit your applications tells your reader that you’ve taken yourself seriously and are attentive to detail.
Setting aside time to proofread and edit is a good practice to maintain throughout your application process and beyond; nothing shows competence like good writing!
5. Conveying Passion:
Although the initial rounds of application forms—which usually stick to details about your academic scores, background information and certifications—may seem quite impersonal, most colleges taking in students are interested in getting to know you. And once these initial details are done with, there is likely to be a part of the process that will require you to write a personal essay (sometimes called a Statement of Purpose). This is your chance to convey your passion, goals and personality in depth to your reviewers, to get your application to stand out from the thousands that they will be seeing.
The key here is to go deep and be honest; take some time to think about the things that really matter to you. This could involve your academic and other interests, your future goals, your concern over particular social issues, or anything at all that is personal and important to you. Utilise the space you’ve been given to write from the heart about the things that make you you, and your passion will automatically come through. This sort of personalisation will make your application stand out, and increases your chances of grabbing your reviewers’ attention.
Another important factor in helping to personalise and strengthen your application is the section that most colleges provide for letters of recommendation (LoRs). These are letters written by your mentors that outline your accomplishments, drive and other positive traits. Make sure to reach out early for LoRs written by mentors that you trust—they could be your subject teachers, your school principal, and even extracurricular mentors who have been a part of your journey.
You now have all the baseline information, tried-and-tested ideas, and key tips to help you make a strong start in your application process. Good luck!