Ask a College Advisor: What Will Help Me Stand Out As a College Applicant?

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Question: What will help me stand out as a college applicant?

Answer: When an applicant is really confident in what they offer, that helps them to stand out — their excitement and passion shines through and is reflected in their application materials.

A standout college applicant communicates their value to the college community effectively by submitting an essay, grades, test scores, recommendations, and work and volunteer history that helps the hiring committee envision how the student will add a valuable perspective to the school.

Below are five ways that you can stand out and help your application effectively communicate your achievements, talents, and qualifications.

Be Authentic

Many students think that there is an archetype of the perfect student that each school is looking for, but that isn't the case. Admissions officers at many schools work hard to admit a diverse class that is well rounded and includes students from different backgrounds. Your true voice should shine through in your essay, resume, and/or portfolio (if required).

Write a Stand-Out Essay

Writing is a powerful tool. College essays provide an opportunity for students to give more insight into who they are outside of the classroom. Expand upon your personality and values in your college application essay to tell a story that gives clues about how you will add value to the college community.

Spend Time on Your Application

Pay close attention to detail! One of the easiest ways to stand out in a good way is to be precise with all of your college application materials. Beware of grammar and spelling errors, and make sure to proofread and follow all instructions carefully. Check and see which college application systems your prospective schools are using, and be sure to include all required parts of the application — there is nothing worse than submitting an incomplete application.

Show That You Did Your Research

Each school wants to admit students who have a vested interest in attending their specific college. Be sure to research relevant features of each school that you are applying to and tailor your application materials accordingly. College applicants can increase their admission chances by clearly illustrating why the school is a strong fit for them. Do this by using concrete examples of compatible academic features, resources, and specialties that the school offers you.

Go Beyond the Status Quo in High School

Doing more than the status quo during high school is helpful when trying to set yourself apart. Choosing the right applicant goes beyond simply picking the student who has the most activities or experiences on their resume — to stand out, you need to show that you are genuinely engaged in high school. Take AP courses if they are offered at your school and get involved with extracurriculars.

For instance, if you are interested in art and design, you could take advanced or out-of-school art classes, volunteer at a local art gallery, and/or join your school's yearbook committee or art club.


College admissions officers review hundreds or thousands of applications each cycle so it is imperative that students do their best to set themselves apart from other qualified candidates. Many admissions decisions come down to whether a school can distinguish you from someone else who has a similar profile on paper.

DISCLAIMER: The responses provided as part of the Ask a College Advisor series are for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact a professional academic, career, or financial advisor before making decisions regarding individual situations.

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