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Maximizing Your College Admissions Application

By Carl Behrend

June 09, 2007

College admissions offices are busy places. Think about an admissions office receiving 5,000 to 10,000 or more applications. That is a lot of reading. What will make your application stand out?

How colleges decide

Before we address that question, let’s look at the process in general. I don’t believe any two admissions offices do everything alike, but there are similarities. Most colleges look at “the numbers” first. GPA, class rank, state test assessments and standardized test scores are the basics that can be enough to put you in the accepted pile at most institutions. They can also, however, put you immediately into the rejected pile!

If a college doesn’t accept or reject you by “the numbers,” you fall into the applicant twilight zone. Now the college goes looking for reasons to accept you. This is where maximizing your successes and potential is most important.

Colleges collect this important information about you in several ways. Some ask for a simple list of your school and community activities, the amount of time you spent on them and your leadership positions. Other applications ask you to answer several questions about yourself and your activities. Some colleges require an essay or a graded writing sample from one of your classes. These written pieces should be a true reflection of who you are.

If a college finds evidence of quality work or experiences from your activities list, short-answer questions, essays or graded samples of your work, that evidence could be significant enough for them to say, “We want you!” and move you to the accepted pile.

How to boost your chances

Are there circumstances where you feel you have not been able to maximize your personal potential? Were you ill a lot last year? Did you experience the death of a grandparent or parent? Did you not just apply yourself? All of those life events are important to an admissions officer reading your application and making a judgment about your admissibility. Colleges are looking for reasons to accept you, not to reject you! An application is the place where you need to maximize both your successes and your potential.

Some colleges require letters of recommendation from teachers or counselors. These can enhance a college’s knowledge of you, though don’t rely on these letters to provide the basics about your personality. That is your job.

How to maximize your potential

View every college application as a challenge instead of just “something you have to do.”

Answer every question thoughtfully. Write a rough draft of your answers on a sheet of paper or on a copy of the application before you complete the final document.

Ask a parent or teacher to read your answers and make suggestions about readability and clarity.

Write your résumé before you start the application process. You might be surprised by how many neat things you have done!

Be sure to answer all the questions on an application.

Give the college what they want. If you have additional information that is pertinent, attach an additional page if there has been no opportunity to describe it elsewhere.

Be reasonable, and don’t go overboard. Ten pages of letters of recommendation from your neighbors are not significant to admissions personnel.

Get involved in your school or community. Play a sport, join a club, get a part-time job, sing in a group, join a youth group or become a volunteer. Every one of these experiences will further define you as a person to any college representative.

How do you maximize your successes and potential in the college admissions process? It is really quite simple. Live your life to its fullest as an active citizen/participant in your school and community, and remember to occasionally take the time to assess and document your progress.

Article reprinted with permission from Next Step Magazine.


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