How to Make Your College Applications Stand Out

August 04, 2017

As students begin to fill out their college applications, there’s one question everyone always asks: “How can I make my college applications stand out?”

We asked a few of our College Admits from the incoming Class of 2021 to share some of their insights on the application process, and what they think made their applications stand out.


Stanford University ‘21

I had a combination of things that helped to get accepted. Firstly, I had good academics, but only having this will not get you into any elite school. In addition, I had great letters of rec. The big thing that got me in was that I was very passionate in my concentrations and showed a consistent theme throughout my application. I think that it helped coming from the Midwest I was not from an overrepresented area and I also had a unique background. Finally, part of college admissions is really about the type of environment a school has. My profile aligned with the culture and goals of the schools I applied to.


Ohio Wesleyan University ‘21

College really loved my extra curricular activities. I had a lot and I had leadership roles in them. The best advice I can give is to join any and all clubs that you find interesting and get involved. Also, when writing your college essays, try to capture a moment. They already know your activities, grades, and involvement from the other parts of your application. There is no need to bring them up again. Take a moment in your life that captures something important to you. An important lesson learned, the joy from something you experienced, something you took for granted and lost. You want to talk about a moment that you won’t forget. It doesn’t have to be huge or life changing. Often, the small events are the most powerful. Tell them about who you are. The essay is where they learn about who you are. So tell them.


Barnard College ‘21

Before I began the application process, I made a list of things that were unique to me, and not to anyone else, and incorporated those into my essays. I didn’t care how trivial they sounded because they were things that were important to me. As a result, my essays were unique and unable to be replicated by anyone else because if they were, they simply wouldn’t be true to those others.


Georgetown University ‘21

Between 10th and 11th grade, I had the privilege of studying abroad for one year in Peru with Rotary Youth Exchange. I think what set me apart is that I was an Asian American girl who took a year off high school, while maintaining my GPA. Other than that, I was fairly typical- I didn’t play any sports, I had good enough test scores and grades, I was in orchestra, a member of some clubs with two leadership positions, etc. So I decided to focus on my community service experience and love for language. If you pick just two things you’re passionate about and let them shine through, I think you’ll have a good application.


Georgia Institute of Technology ‘21

I primarily aimed to apply to schools that award merit scholarships. My best advice for this process is to take every opportunity that you can to interview with a school. I believe that interviews are the reason for most of the scholarships I was awarded (Case Western, USC) and some of the more competitive admissions (CMU, Rice). Make sure that you start working on applications early and fully investigate each school. If you tailor your application to what they are looking for in a student, you should have a much better chance at admission and scholarships. I think that my dual enrollment credits, active role in student life, unique summer experience, and my interviews/recommendation letters were the largest factors in my admission at most schools.

Applying to college?
View the app files and essays of accepted students.

Looking for more college application advice? Ask any question in our Advice Search Feature, and it’ll surface profiles of students who’ve answered your question! For more, you can also search through profiles of students accepted to see essays, stats, and advice. See how they got in, and how you can too!

About The Author

Frances Wong
Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.


Browse Successful Application Files

Stanford ‘21

Accepted to Stanford

A Questbridge Match and an aspiring engineer who plans to solve global issues using business, law, politics, and, of course, science.
Stanford ‘21

Accepted to Stanford, Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley

My spirit animal is Pikachu (that is, a math/science, politics-loving Pikachu!)
Stanford ‘20

Accepted to Stanford, GA Tech, BC, UCLA

I was originally born in China, and came to the United States at the age of 2. In my free time, I enjoy playing video games, frisbee, and archery!
Stanford ‘20

Accepted to Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCSD, UCLA, UC Davis

I am a Frosh at Stanford studying studying engineering (computer science or other types) with a (possible) minor in the humanities. Go Trees!!!

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