By Ryan Hickey
September 9 2015
With application rates skyrocketing, it’s easy to lose
sight of the big picture by slipping into a mindset of trying to stand out. In reality, setting yourself apart
from the crowd is actually more about what you don’t do than what you do.
Although following the instructions and submitting everything on time can seem mediocre, these simple things can give you a major edge this application season. A solid application demonstrates maturity and confidence—qualities that every school is seeking in their applicants.
Here’s what you can do to stand out in the CommonApp.
Avoid gimmicks Whatever gimmicky or “show-offy” thing that you’re thinking about because you’re sure that it’s original and that the admissions officers will be so totally blown away by your unique approach that there’s just no possible way that they could ever forget you, think again. Admissions officers are sophisticated people who have been at this for numerous years. They’ve seen every trick in the book, and they find them ridiculous. Moreover, these gimmicks are disrespectful because they are an insult to the admissions officer’s intelligence. Sincerity and straightforwardness always win the day in the admissions process.
Start early Juggling tough senior courses with the CommonApp, not to mention activities and possibly a work schedule, can make the best year of high school stressful. Work to get as much done as you can as early as you can.
Translation: If you haven’t already started, do it now! In the summer, you can get your activities list together and create the early drafts of your essays. Teachers, volunteer supervisors, and employers don’t have all day to write letters of recommendation, and waiting to ask can mean missing deadlines. Therefore, asking early will help you get better quality recommendations on time.
Consider early decision options For previous generations, applying early decision was rare, but now many schools fill the majority of the slots available through early decision. If you have a top choice school, early decision can greatly improve your chances. Also, understand the school’s early decision policy. Some require that you matriculate if accepted, while others are more lenient. Early decision shouldn’t be the only option that you pursue, and applying to many schools early decision will make you seem disingenuous. However, using this option for your top school can be the right choice.
Show (a lot of) interest Schools want to select people who really want to be there, and showing great interest in the school can help your application stand apart. Arrange for a campus tour, get in contact with current students, and take the time to talk to professors in the major(s) that interest you. If it is not possible to physically visit the campus beforehand, ask the school if there are meet-ups or information sessions in your area. This can be particularly effective if you are not as well-qualified as the average applicant. Your knowledge of and interest in the school might persuade the admissions officers.
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, but don’t cast too wide a net. One of the biggest mistakes that applicants make is applying to too many or too few schools. Applying to too few schools can result in not having a seat at a college this coming fall. However, the far more common error is applying to too many schools. As human beings, we only have so much stamina and can only genuinely care about a handful of things. This will be especially apparent in your essays. Applying to a high number of schools wastes both your time and that of the admissions officers. Only apply to schools about which you are truly passionate, and you will shine in the CommonApp.
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Petersons & EssayEdge. Read Ryan's full article as it was originally published on college.usatoday.com right here.