Rock Your College App: Tips to Help You Stand Out

It’s no secret that college admissions teams have their work cut out for them – they review thousands of applications each year! While each college has its own admissions criteria, they all look for similar qualifications. 

If you want to go to college but prefer a non-competitive application process, check out open-access institutions. They only require a high school diploma or GED.

If you’re applying to competitive colleges, here are some tips to help make your college applications stand out.

Strong grades and test scores 

Your GPA is one of the first things application readers look at on your application. If you struggle with your grades, ask your teacher for extra help or consider hiring a tutor. Since many colleges are moving to test-optional or test-blind admissions, a strong GPA is an even bigger piece of the application puzzle. 

Some colleges still require either ACT or SAT scores. Even if the school doesn’t request test scores, they still may be helpful for scholarships.

You took advantage of available opportunities

Colleges ask high schools to send a school report with your transcript. This report includes your school’s curriculum (the number of honors, AP, IB, or dual enrollment classes offered). It also includes the grading scale, special programs, and the population served. 

If you take advantage of what’s available at your school, you’ll have a stronger application. Most admissions teams review an entire high school together, so you’ll be compared to your classmates.

How much you challenged yourself

Competitive colleges spend the most time reviewing your transcript. They review:

  • How much you know about core subjects
  • Prerequisites
  • How much you challenged yourself

The most competitive colleges want you to complete four years in the five core subjects (math, English, social studies, world language, and science). But, if your school only offers two years of world language, it won’t often be held against you unless it is a prerequisite for that specific college.

Colleges want to know you challenged yourself. If your school offered five AP classes, they want to see that you took all 5! If you took all five and a summer program, they’d see you went above and beyond!

Your impact in and out of the classroom 

Colleges want to see how you made a positive difference in your high school, the local community, and globally. Were you a leader? Did you volunteer? Did your impact reach a state or national level?

Let your character, personality, and personal interests shine through your application. Volunteering and community service stand out to colleges because it shows you are eager to support and help those around you.

Strong letters of recommendation 

Letters of recommendation help colleges understand who you are and learn about your accomplishments. Choose a teacher, counselor, or mentor who knows you well and can speak about your growth and achievements over many years.

A thoughtful essay

Most admissions teams have less than seven minutes to review your application. The essay helps them figure out if you’re a good fit for their campus community. They want to see how you talk about others and whether your social characteristics align with the college’s values. 

They also want to see that you’re capable of working hard. Talk about a time you failed and got back up again. It shows you’re not afraid to learn from your mistakes. The essay is also one of the only places to talk about your unique attributes, goals, and what you plan to do with your college education.

Timing Matters

Timing can impact your offer. Many colleges have an early decision or early action option. We encourage you to apply early if you know where you want to go to college. Remember, you have an out if the school doesn’t offer you enough financial aid to attend.

How do I make my college application stand out?

If you want to stand out, learn as much as you can about your top schools. Did you know schools keep track of your interactions with them? Here are some ways to let a school know you’re excited to be part of their community. 

  • Visit the campus
  • Attend info sessions
  • Contact academic departments that interest you

Your invested interest could be the difference between your application and another student’s similar application. 

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building your college application, researching your top colleges, keeping your grades up, and thoughtfully responding to essays are just some ways to make your application stand out.