At one point or another, most high school students dream of attending a top-rated college. It’s hard to resist the temptation to imagine what it would be like to study at one of the most prestigious higher-education institutions in the country, like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia or Brown. However, it is harder, of course, to get in: according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, just 0.4% of undergraduates attend one of the eight Ivy League schools.
The Ivy League institutions are among the most selective colleges you can apply to, though they are not the only ones. A selective college is any college that receives more applications than the number of spaces it has available in the freshman class. Importantly, a selective college only partly admits students on the basis of academics – since applicants typically only apply to a school if they have the required grades, everyone in the applicant pool is usually qualified. Students need to therefore make the case to their preferred college that they should be admitted for other reasons, which is why it is essential that applicants know what makes them unique.
Picture this: an admissions office at a top college has to sift through thousands of applications each year to decide who to admit. Some applicants stand out because of their extraordinarily high grade point average, but for the most part, the transcripts are fairly similar. So, admissions officers will base their decisions on more subjective things, like an applicant’s extra-curricular activities, passions and hobbies, or what they want to do after they graduate from college. If a student can paint a clear picture of themselves that sets them apart from other applicants, they are more likely to be accepted.
A college counselor can be of great help in this area. They can help students figure out what is most unique about them, and determine how best to present that information to the colleges they apply to. Whether it is through application essays, letters of recommendation, character references or list of activities, there are several ways in which a student can give admissions officers insight into what makes them special. Admissions counsellors can guide applicants in what to highlight in each component of an application.
Of course, a college counselor is not the only person who can assist with this: family members, family friends, teachers and guidance counselors can help, too. Everyone can benefit from outside feedback on their application, and since it can be very difficult for someone to know what makes them unique, it’s often worth asking others for their input.
Regardless of how you do it, it is vitally important to let a potential college know what is really different about you. They will consider the degree to which you can differentiate yourself from other candidates, because they want to be sure they are creating a diverse freshman class. Admissions offices aim to “build” a class in the same way a stone mason builds bricks for a building. Each one needs to be separate and distinct, yet they all need to fit together well to make the building strong.
Ultimately, to have a healthy, dynamic first-year class, each student needs to contribute something unique. It is the key to ensuring the student body is interesting, both to the students and the faculty teaching them. Remember, colleges are not looking for the most well-rounded student, but rather the most well-rounded class. Rather than trying to prove you can do anything and everything, focus on a few things that make you stand out. Your application, and chances of being accepted, will be better for it.