Today I’m running a guest blog post by Jessica Yeager, a grad of Harvard and MIT, who is a tutor and college consultant for high-achieving students and their parents. You can get her four-step workbook: Base Brainstorming Workbook for free.
The college application is one of the most stressful, scary, and overwhelming experiences for most teenagers and their parents. How can students tell their unique, compelling stories in a way that captures the attention of college admissions committees?
Here are the top three strategies that I used to get accepted to top-tier colleges.
1. Schools Want Well-Rounded Student Body NOT Well-Rounded Students
Students do not need to be president of every club, play every sport, and volunteer at 20 different organizations. They should pick something they love, the “base,” and build on that. If they love STEM, they could start a coding club at school, put together a science fair for a low-income middle school, and join the math team.
Focus on depth not breadth. Quality over quantity. Students should never do something they hate just because it will “look good” on an application; they just won’t excel at it. Don’t let your children spend their free time making themselves miserable.
Don’t just take my word for it. Check out what college admissions counselors had to say about “well-rounded” students when interviewed by Digest of Gifted Research.
Sewanee: University of the South:
Serial participators rarely leave a mark at their high schools or colleges. We would rather see meaningful involvement [in a few activities] than superficial involvement in multiple activities.
As they search for an area of interest, students will often come down with the “sampling syndrome” and jump from one activity to another. While this exploration is understandable, we look for leadership potential and extracurricular experience that will help enhance the student body. The most successful applicants follow their interests with dedication and make real contributions to each organization or endeavor they pursue.
2. Start Early
Essay topics are usually available starting the summer before applications are due. Encourage your students to spend that time crafting compelling essays that tell their unique stories. If they start early, they’ll have time to write and rewrite until they get the best possible essays.
Asking for teacher recommendations at the end of junior year is a great way to start early. Teachers will have a fresh memory of how your student did in their class, and your student will be one of the first to approach the teacher. It’s definitely better to be one of the first instead of one of the last so your teachers aren’t rushed or overwhelmed when writing.
3. Have a System
There’s a lot to keep track of when applying to colleges. Students need to be organized and know all the deadlines.
I like to use Google calendar for organizing my schedule. In addition to staying organized, you want to avoid duplicating efforts. If your student is applying to ten schools, ten completely different applications aren’t necessary. I recommend using the Common Application wherever possible.
In addition, many essay topics overlap. Encourage your student to choose one topic that can apply to as many applications as possible and focus on writing one amazing essay instead of ten mediocre ones. I used one essay to gain acceptance to eight different schools with only some minor tweaking.
The same goes with the activity list/resume; it should generally be the same for every application, but can be personalized for individual schools. For example, if a certain school’s focus is entrepreneurship, your student could put the business he or she created at the top of the list. Focus on being organized and working methodically, and the application process won’t be nearly as stressful or overwhelming.
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