The admissions game today is a competitive one to say the least; and, it is a game that is not always won in the academic arena. Now more than ever, colleges are looking at what students have accomplished outside of the classroom as a major factor in deciding which students make their way into the classroom at respective colleges and universities. There are so many variables students must consider in the admissions process: academic rigor, test scores, and recommendations just to name a few; however, in today’s admissions landscape, where students are becoming more and more difficult to distinguish by looking at these traditional standards, it is incumbent upon students to find new ways to stand out from the field.
When I was in high school, I tried to distinguish myself by joining every club my school had to offer. I still have my yearbook in which I can find my exuberant face on the front row of every club photo- even the astronomy club photo, where I was immortalized pointing up at the stars. I was convinced at the time that I was making myself more appealing to the colleges to which I was applying. Thankfully, I excelled on the soccer field as well, which helped to make up for those other areas in which I was lacking. There was no one there to tell me that my scatter-shot method of meeting my extracurricular requirement was not the most effective way to demonstrate my leadership skills.
The truth is that colleges want to see students not only stick with something, but take leadership roles as well. It is better to have a few clubs and community organizations you take an active leadership role in than to spread yourself out to thinly. Admissions Officers are searching for students who will excel inside and outside of the classroom. They want young men and women who will add something significant to their collegiate environment.
To use an analogy that most students can identify with, the admissions process resembles in many ways the internet match-making process that is sweeping the nation. Your application, resume and letters of recommendation help to complete your student profile and prospective suitors (colleges) are trying to decide if they want to date (accept) you. Now I am not advocating the kind of exaggerations which have become an all-too-real part of the on-line dating process; however, these techno-daters have hit on one inherent truth when it comes to any kind of relationship: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” You need to make certain that the impression you leave Admission Officers with is a positive one. If you want to be noticed you must find a way to stand out, and, unfortunately, good grades and high test scores are just not enough anymore.
Colleges are looking for students who have truly made the most of their high school experience, so don’t get caught wondering if you could have done more. Freshman year is an awkward time for many students, as they make the adjustment to high school; but, one of the best ways to smoothly transition is to jump right in and get involved. The one commodity that cannot be recreated junior and senior year is time. Since you can’t go back and add extracurricular activities after the fact, the best course of action is to “seize the day” right from the start. Find clubs or organizations in your high school that interest you and stay committed to them throughout high school. If those clubs or organizations are lacking in your school then start them yourself. Admissions Officers love to see students take initiative when it is called for to achieve their goals. Finally, if opportunities are lacking in your school then find them in your community.
In the end, colleges want to find students who are the right fit for their learning community (thus the dating analogy). School officials are looking for individuals who will contribute to their institutions, both in and out of the classroom. Your best bet for acceptance is for you to show yourself to be “irresistible” to these admissions officials, and many times that kind of attractiveness cannot be achieved with a 1500 SAT score!