How will your child's college application stand out from the crowd?

Whether it’s a college app or your latest post to social media, the primary obstacle is the same -- how do you make someone take notice? If you’ve spent any considerable time on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or whatever the kids are using these days, I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to some of these.

Lesson #1: Having lived in a foreign country is interesting, having traveled to one is not.

I’ve lost count of the number of pics I’ve seen of people posing in front of Machu Picchu. There’s nothing wrong with traveling, and there is certainly value in seeing the world, but it would be a mistake to think that traveling for pleasure (or even a short term service project) makes an applicant stand out.

Applying this concept broadly to college admissions, long-term commitment is always more interesting than short-term involvement. A student who immerses herself in something is interesting. And nearly always, immersion leads to demonstrable growth in the experience such as recognition, leadership, and giving back to the community.

Lesson #2: Specific details are interesting, vague generalizations are not.

Everyone thinks their uniqueness is obvious, but in actuality most social media profiles are quite similar. For example, most profiles say some form of “I like hiking,” “I like to eat,” and “I like to travel.” This tells me nothing because these preferences apply to everyone. Here’s an example of an interesting detail: One of my friends described herself as someone who liked to hike in areas with wildlife, but not sheep, because she was afraid of sheep.

Details make applications stand out. Students can apply this concept by including specific details in their essays and short responses. For example, a student shouldn’t just write that she’s interested in studying abroad but should include where and why. Here’s another example: A student writing about an experience should include specific sensory detail. No one else will describe an experience in the exact same way.

Lesson #3: Teach me something, and I will find you interesting.

One person’s online profile I came across mentioned she had lachanophobia. Go ahead, look it up. I had to, too. I love it when I learn something new from a post, and I bet admissions counselors do, too. After all, they are educators.

If an applicant is deeply into something, even if it’s something I don’t necessarily care about, I will probably learn something and find the applicant interesting. I don’t want a lesson on machine learning or abstract art or cultural traditions, but if an applicant is excited about something and it’s meaningful to her, I will probably learn something organically just by reading her essay about it. Appeal to my intellect. Or in broader terms, change the way I look at something.


P.S. You might be thinking, "I'm tired of googling the answers to my college questions. Isn't there a better way?" If so, come join the conversation on our private Facebook group for parents: Free College Counseling. Hope to see you there!