As it gets more and more difficult to be accepted to college, students everywhere are keen to stand out. The good news is that with just a little thought, and some planning, you can. Here's a handy-dandy “top ten” list of sure-fire ways to distinguish yourself when applying to college. In part 1, I’ll share my first five tips, and in part two (to come in a few weeks) I’ll round out my top ten.
1. Do what you love.
Sounds simple, but when you pursue your genuine interests, you will naturally get really into the activity and go the extra mile, which always stands out. What's more, you will enjoy yourself and you may find a new hobby, passion, or even a career.
2. Distinguish yourself at your school
Try to find a way that you can help out at your school, by being a leader or seeing some kind of need and creating a solution for it. Do freshmen need a buddy system first semester? Is there no school recycling? Would a book drive help build up your library? Is there no Engineering Club? Look for weaknesses or problems, and find a creative solution because colleges want to know what kinds of things you will do on their campus, and everyone loves a problem-solver.
3. Distinguish yourself in your community
This is similar to #2, but look around your town. What's missing or less than awesome? What is a cheap, easy way to fix it? (Think "volunteers".) You can easily distinguish yourself by working in some small (or large) way to improve your community. You can also get involved in already existing groups, like Lions Club, the local shelter, creek clean up, forest preservation, recycling, after school tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club, etc etc. Local organizations are very happy to have help from energetic teens.
4. Get a job or an internship
Working is a great way to learn responsibility and professionalism, and to figure out what careers are good fits for you. Every job has value in teaching you these things: fast food, retail, nannying...everything! An internship or a job shadow is an awesome opportunity for you to experience working in a very professional setting that requires a certain skill set. If you ask around in your community, you can often find a doctor or lawyer or engineer who would be happy to let you shadow them for a day or volunteer in their office for a week or the summer. You can learn so much doing this and it is truly, truly helpful in deciding what you want to major in.
5. Do some independent research
Independent research is when you learn about a subject simply because you are interested. This has nothing to do with points or grades--you just want to know something so you read about it. You can also interview people who are experts in the subject, you can read regularly, and you can even do experiments. For reading/research, think blogs, websites, newspapers, magazines, documentaries, interviews, podcasts, TedTalks, etc. I would suggest keeping a bibliography of all of these places and be ready to reference your research in your applications and interviews. Doing any kind of formal research under a faculty member is absolutely solid gold.
Hopefully these five tips have helped you get your creative “differentiation juices” flowing. The key is to stand out (in a good way of course).
Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed is a college counselor based in Seattle, WA. She has been working with high school students for 20 years, first as an English teacher and then as a guidance counselor. As a first generation college graduate, Susanna believes that education is the best way to break the poverty cycle and she is passionate about increasing access to Higher Ed. Susanna founded www.CollegeMapper.com, a free website that gives each high school student a step-by-step plan to find and apply to college.