We regularly get questions from families asking “what should my daughter/son do to stand out in the admission process?” While we’d love to give an answer like “75 hours of community service, become captain of a team and vice president of your class,” admissions just doesn’t work like that. Instead, when working with students, we talk a lot about how they can build their own unique profile, based on their interests and the opportunities available to them.

Here are a few points that we discuss early and often through their high school careers:

Build a strong foundation: During your early years in high school, get involved in the things that interest you most. Try your best to learn as much as possible about the organizations that you are a part of. You should listen to upperclassmen and ask questions about policies, procedures and logistics. Understand that you are not yet an expert, but by putting time and energy into these extracurriculars, you will become a trusted and active member of the organization.

Build on your academic strengths: Schools want to see students who have done well academically. But your transcript is only one piece of the puzzle. If you have specific academic areas of interest, try to find ways to build upon them outside of the classroom. When admission officers are reviewing applications they want to see students who stand out within their peer group. If you can enhance your academic areas of interests through additional course work, summer programming, volunteering, internships, job experience or research, this will help to make you a more unique and attractive applicant. And remember, it isn’t just about taking part in programming, but rather gaining experience and building upon it.

Think beyond your school bubble: When reviewing a students profile, we always try to understand their experiences within the context of their peer group. Most students are heavily involved in activities in or related to their high school. We’ve read hundreds of essays about debate, soccer, robotics and volunteer programs. These are all perfectly fine topics. But if a student is going to write about these topics, they have to distinguish what makes their specific experience unique compared to the many other students who are discussing the same topics in their application. Instead, students should try to identify opportunities and programs that go beyond their school bubble. Do you have resources individually or through your school that you can share with groups that may not have the same resources? Are there gaps in programming within your community that you think you can fill? Can you be an activist and create real change? Do you have an opportunity to get real-world experiences in your fields of interest? These experiences will help to re-shape their perspective and will be an organically unique narrative.

This is all to say, there isn’t any specific way that a student will stand out in the admission process. The evaluation is based around the context of the opportunities and experiences for each student. This is why we love working with students early in their high school career. It allows us the opportunity to provide advice throughout high school and help build a unique narrative for each student that we work with.

About the author

Jamie received a BA from University of Mary Washington and an MA in higher education administration from George Mason University. Jamie has a decade of admissions experience at several institutions, including University of California – Berkeley and Loyola University Maryland. He also served as associate director of college counseling at a private high school in Washington, DC. Jamie provides oversight for all undergraduate counseling at AcceptU. He is an IECA Professional Member.

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