Most of us are familiar with the standard list of college application requirements, but there are other ways that you can stand out from the competition – apart from a stellar high school record and weighty letters of recommendation.
“Most students don’t realize that grades and scores are not everything,” says Kierston Murphy, a consultant who specializes in helping students in the Seattle area get into college. She notes that some schools have moved away from test scores and made reporting them optional, and some are broadening the range of things they seek in applicants.
Here is a list of five things that colleges might look for beyond the standard items (grade point average, SAT or ACT scores, recommendations and essays):
What have you done?
It doesn’t have to be membership in student council or the honor society. Colleges want to know that you worked hard on something and worked with others –especially, that you were a leader.
“Colleges much prefer seeing kids concentrate on one or two things of interest to them and then stick with it” says Mitch Warren, director of admissions at Purdue. “If I had to bring it down to one word, it would be authenticity.”
So think about where you have been actively involved – whether it’s at job or an organization that might not immediately seem to you to be of interest to a college. Even consider a keen interest in something that you did outside of a group or organization. And it doesn’t matter if it seems too narrow – it might be valuable to show lots of different effort related to one topic like the environment or politics, for instance, or hang gliding or art. If you’ve taken time off from school, tell them why and what you did. (A lot of colleges love the idea of a gap year now).
What can you do?
Your ideas about what you want to do and why this particular college is the place you want to do it. You may not have the entire plan filled in, but showing them direction is key. And, it’s just as important to show that you have researched colleges and their school specifically and that it is the one that is best suited to you. “Know the university you’re applying to before you press submit,” says Jennifer Ziegenfus, assistant director of admissions at Towson University near Baltimore. “Whether you’ve visited the campus or just have been online, your passion about that institution will shine over an applicant who has not done any research.”
Who do you know?
Oh, sure, if your parents are best friends with the college’s president, that will help, but so will just getting to know the admissions representative (They are often the person looking over the applications) or people in the department you might join (They have some say, too, normally). Also, recommendations are important, but it doesn’t have to be someone who can vouch for your brilliance in the classroom. Think about someone who will say the right things about your character, your goals and, especially, your work ethic.
How do you do it?
There is a lot of chatter these days in education about “grit” and “determination.” Colleges like to know that you are a hard worker and that you follow through – so it’s important that you show this in your recommendations, resume, application and in the work with them. Related to that, “self-directed learners”, colleges say, are more likely to be successful – so show them that you know how to gather information and use it.
And do it yourself.
Colleges are very aware that parents, perhaps more than ever, are involved in their children’s lives, and several admissions people note that they can tell when students are engaged in the process. They like to see a student who does the work themselves (even if everything isn’t perfect) because it’s an indication of their ability to be independent in school.
Beyond that, make a good impression on the college – particularly online. Think about the impression social media might make. And several admissions officials say you should focus on the details of application material. “I can’t tell you how many typo’s and misspellings that I have seen,” says Rick Funk, director of Admissions at University of Alabama. “And for God’s sake, they should look at their email address and even their voice mail message. If you are sexydude69@gmail, make up another email account to use for your college work.”