How to Stand Out in the College Admissions Crowd

7 Jul 2017

Everyone loves a good story. The hero faces unfathomable difficulties and it doesn’t look like they’re going to make it out alive. In the end they overcome and are carried on the shoulders of peers through the village. *Insert epic music and cheering.*

When you apply to colleges (and internships, and jobs) the admissions counselor is looking for your story. How you developed and passionately pursue your interests, how you overcame obstacles, and where you hope your next quest will take you. You’ll be competing against a lot of students who also have plans, ambitions, and good grades. Your story needs to be something that sets you apart from the rest. Part of it is how you craft your story in application essays, but the first step is having an exciting narrative to talk about.

“This is all well and good, Kat,” you may be thinking, “But how is my average existence as a sixteen-year-old equivalent to an epic journey across hill and vale?” Never fear. A good story doesn’t have to be how you discovered the cure for the common cold or survived a shipwreck in Antarctica. A good story starts right where you are and with the things you’re interested in.

As you craft your story, don’t be swayed by these common myths about how to stand out in the college admissions crowd:


Myth 1: You Need to Be “Well-Rounded”

When I was in high school, you wanted to appear well-rounded. Colleges were looking for students who weren’t just getting good grades, but were involved. So we got really involved. We signed up for as many extracurriculars and clubs we could and balanced them precariously with our full academic schedules.

This is not the case anymore. Colleges caught on that “well-rounded students” were either stretched incredibly thin, or they weren’t actually as involved as it looked. For example, I listed that I was in French Club… although I only went to three meetings over the course of my junior year.

However, you can still have more than one singular interest. In fact, if you’re not sure what you’re interested in, it’s a great idea to try multiple new things. Once you do find something that gets you excited, dive in deep.


Myth 2: Just Having an Interest is Enough

Do you remember that movie about they guy who was super interested in music? Wait. You don’t remember? He said he wanted to be a composer, and everyone was like “Cool, man. Good luck.”

Of course you don’t remember. Good stories are about people who DO things. Our hypothetical musician, should be composing music on his own, taking online workshops, maybe taking college music classes that his high school doesn’t offer. Maybe he’s teaching music lessons to younger kids.

Wherever your interests lie, doing something to learn more, develop skills, and share with others proves that you’re 100 percent dedicated to that topic. And of course, all of this is not “just for college applications.” You’re doing something because you’re genuinely interested in that topic. It’s what colleges are looking for, it’s what employers are looking for, it’s what you should be doing in life, exploring.


Myth 3: It Costs a Lot of Money to DO Something

If you’re generally interested in a field, say fashion, and debating the pros and cons of a particular field of study within fashion, you might consider going to a summer intensive program in New York or Los Angeles. If you’ve got the time and money, go for it! You’ll have a great experience networking with professionals, developing skills, and meeting peers with similar interests.

However, you can craft just as good a story about your passion for fashion if you stay at home. Redesign clothes you pick up from the thrift store. Learn from free online courses and Youtube videos. Write your own fashion blog. Network with alumni from your high school. The options are limitless.

Whatever your interests, there are a lot of online courses that are free or relatively low cost. Check out EdX, Coursera, or Udemy to get started. Some of these courses can be transferred as actual course credit in college.


Myth 4: I Don’t Have Enough Time

If it’s important to you, you will make the time. Period.

I know, I know, easier said than done, but it’s true. If your life is too full of extracurriculars that don’t align with your passions or career interests… maybe it’s time to cut back. The three hours a year I sat being a “casual” member of French club, are three more hours I could have been focusing on my actual interests. Remember, less is more to college admissions counselors if your “less” activities are things you truly dived deep into.

I hear from athletes especially that it’s difficult to find the time. But, you can channel your passion for sports into volunteer opportunities. Stay on the field, on the rink, or on the court for a few extra hours as a coach or referee for younger kids. Your leadership abilities will definitely stand out to college recruiters if you’re looking to play in college.


Myth 5: I Have to Do this Alone

A good story is not just about the protagonist. There are key sidekicks and mentors (usually of the grey-bearded wizarding sort) who bring out the best of our hero and help them along way. Grab a band of merry men (or women) who share your interests, pack a few snacks, and embark on your quest together.

Looking for a mentor to help you start? We lack the grey beards, but we’re wizards of sorts here at March Consulting. Schedule an appointment here to talk through your interests and ideas.

Bottom line: Think about something you like and start DOING it. That’s the key. Start DOING it, and that’s how you stand out in the college and career process.

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