How to Stand Out From the Applicant Pool

June 29, 2017

How do you stand out in an increasingly competitive college applicant pool?

I remember attending a small middle school in New York City where there were 30 students in a grade. Everyone knew each other by name and each person stood out in his/her own way. I was always energetic and jumped on every opportunity that passed by me. On the first day of high school, I realized that everything would be different. With 750 students in each grade, it was hard to find a way to make yourself stand out.

Colleges and universities are always searching for a diversity pool of students to fill their campuses. They search for students who excel at various academic fields, compete in sports or have a special skill that no one else does. With some schools receiving thousands of applications for limited spots, it becomes hard for colleges to differentiate applicants. It comes down to you to show colleges that you can contribute to their community.

Academic performance qualifies you as a student, but by no means does it guarantee that you are accepted. At elite colleges and universities, for every person that is accepted, there are at least three or four more applicants who were not accepted and had similar academic records. With an increasing number of applicants and a more diverse applicant pool, it becomes more important for you to show colleges that you are unique.

Personally, I found that the best way to show colleges who I am is through my extracurriculars and personal essays. These two parts of the application can be crafted by the applicant and should be strategically used to present a profile of yourself.

For extracurriculars, rather than spreading yourself thin between a myriad of different clubs, you should focus on a handful of activities that you are passionate about. For me, I joined a large community service organization where I eventually became a regional executive officer and consulted the organization on an international level. By focusing in on one extracurricular activity, I showed colleges that I had a passion for a subject, was willing to commit myself to it, and advanced in leadership roles within the organization.

The personal essay should include information that helps colleges understand your background, passions and goals. I used vivid vocabulary to describe myself in my personal essay so that the college would have an understanding of who I am and what makes me different from other applicants.  Typically centered around an experience, make sure you show how that moment helped define or highlight your identity, passions, and worldview. It is imperative that your uniqueness is reflected in the personal essay; if you handed this essay to a close friend, they should be able to hear your voice within the writing rather than a generic story.

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

Remember that there are many students who apply to colleges and have the same grades and talent as you. You have to show colleges your idiosyncrasy. Even if you do have perfect grades, each college follows different criteria for accepting students so don’t expect to get into every college.  You’re more than just a letter grade, and a college will take your personal experience within your essays into thoughtful consideration.



Browse Successful Application Files

niathuravil
Rutgers ‘20


Accepted to Rutgers, NYU, Fordham, UMass, Colorado, MSU, Illinois, Arizona, Washington

Your local political astronaut with a passion for the prolific things in life.
jackmac401
USC ‘19


Accepted to USC, UMich, Northwestern, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Swarthmore, CMU, NYU, Vassar, Reed, Kenyon, UC Davis, Syracuse, CU, Fordham, Santa Clara, CSU Chico, CSUF, UC Riverside , UCSB, UCSC, Bard

Theater/business double major from classic and online highschool background. Here to help navigate audition and business interview processes! On full tuition scholarship
MichaelR
Columbia ‘20


Accepted to Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, UC Berkeley, JHU, Vanderbilt, Rice, UMich, UCLA, UNC, UT Austin, Washington, Ohio State, UCSD

Midwestern kid who loves molecular biology and electronic dance music. Let me help you edit your essays!
Lia_Columbia
Columbia ‘19


Accepted to Columbia

I'm a student at Columbia. I love writing, activism, terrible jokes, and binge-watching Netflix. Aspiring English teacher.

New Posts

Student Insight: How to Approach Transferring Colleges
Student Insight: How to Approach Transferring Colleges
January 09, 2018

Not sure if your current university is the best school for you? Consider your transfer options. No one really expects to go through the application process again after senior year in high school. But things...

How To Succeed on MCAT Test Day
How To Succeed on MCAT Test Day
January 05, 2018

Stressed out about your upcoming MCAT? Our friends at Magoosh will help you through MCAT Test Day! You’ve prepared for the MCAT for months, you’ve selected the right date for you—and it’...

Load More Posts