I graduated from Harvard and MIT — here's the smartest thing I did on my applications
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College application season is coming to a close.
For seniors, your grades and test scores are pretty much set at this point. The question now is how can you make your application stand out among so many qualified applicants.
When I applied to colleges, I had great grades and test scores, but so did a lot of students who didn’t get into Harvard or MIT.
The smartest thing I did on my college applications was to focus not just on grades and test scores but on the aspects of my profile that made me stand out.
For me, this meant emphasizing my social justice side in addition to my STEM side.
So where should students focus their college applications to help them stand out from the tens of thousands of applications? I can boil it down to two areas:
Focus on leadership
Many students have great leadership experience, but they bury it deep in the application’s activity list and don’t emphasize it. Some even downplay their contributions. The college application is not a place for modesty. Those leadership positions should be front and center on the application. The best examples of leadership are long-standing and in a field that is of interest to the student. For example, if you started a club, it should be near the top of your list.
If you need more leadership experience: For non-seniors looking to increase their leadership opportunities, one of my favorite ways to add leadership experience to the resume is by starting your own club or organization. This usually isn’t as hard as it seems. Often, you just need to get a teacher as a sponsor and encourage other students to join you.
If it’s not possible to start a club at your school, starting an organization outside of school, like a non-profit or meetup group, can be a great way to demonstrate leadership. Again, this is usually easier than you think. Just make sure it’s something you really care about or have fun with, because it’s a lot of work!
Focus on impact
Just like the leadership experience, colleges love to see that you have made an impact on your community and the world. If you have a project or organization you lead that demonstrates your desire to use your gifts and talents to help others, that should be showcased in your activity list.
To really stand out, this should be more than just your typical, occasional volunteer work. That's great, but doesn’t show tremendous initiative and a desire to change the world.
If you need to have more impact: For non-seniors who are struggling with how to impact their communities, look at incorporating your interests into the activity or organization. Maybe you love chess. You can talk to local schools and community centers to see about starting a chess club for middle schoolers or retirees. This will give you a chance to use your skills to help others.
An activity I love that can really showcase a student’s passions and impact is creating an event. This can be a resource fair, a conference, a science fair, or anything else that seems like fun to you. Partnering with a local non-profit can really help get an event off the ground. They can be a lot of work, but so rewarding.
Applying to college can be one of the most stressful times in a student’s life, but, by really showcasing the pieces of their applications that make them stand out and exemplify the interests that they really care about, your chances of getting into your dream schools are so much better than if you bury those accomplishments deep in your application.
Remember: College admissions officers typically spend a matter of minutes reviewing your application, so you need to stand out and catch their attention quickly.
For juniors, remember it’s not too late to add some really great leadership and service experiences to your resume. Spend some time over this winter break thinking about what you really care about and how you would like to impact your school, your community, and the world beyond. Brainstorm some ideas, and, most importantly, start taking action. The first step can simply be reaching out to an organization or a teacher for support in your endeavors. You will be surprised how much people are willing to help a student with an idea and passion.
Last Updated July 24, 2018