Dan Stevens
Staff Writer

By now many of the seniors have heard or will hear soon from the colleges they applied to. For them, this information will have to be applied to other things as “Class of 2017” application deadlines are long gone. However, for the juniors and prepared underclassmen, this may prove to be invaluable both for pursuit of and your eventual success with your dream school.

Many consider the beginning of the college application process to be the application. This cannot be. In order to make an appealing application, you must set yourself up to succeed. This involves brainstorming every aspect of your life. But be careful – don’t think “well rounded.” Nearly every student applying to college is “well rounded” in their own way. They have their good GPA, strong SAT scores (which are great to have, but good scores don’t get you into school, bad scores will keep you out), their sport, their instrument, their life experiences etcetera. Frequently, “well rounded” will get one into a decent school. But you want your dream school, and for them you need to stand out and rise above the average, the above average and the superb. To be a truly prolific applicant, think “well oblong.” Show that you are a versed individual, but also having something that distinguishes you from the other applicants. This does not mean excluding yourself to one thing; it means excelling in one, but being cultured and experienced all around.

Each and every one of us has something unique and special that sets us apart from every other person – something that makes you who you are. While this may not mean competing for something on an international stage, or building a robot out of a PlayStation, that sketchbook you doodle in every so often has some phenomenal drawings in it. Perhaps you’ve begun some sort of an entrepreneurship experience. Maybe you value and enjoy the community service you’ve done through your church. Or quite possibly, you’re a mentor for someone and have been influential in their life in a small, but very powerful way. All of these are great to put on a college application, but the most important step is figuring out exactly who you are and what you’ve done. After that, the app should take care of itself. 

It is these ideals that make you different from the other thousands of applicants your college admissions officers will evaluate. However, it is very difficult to fit this all on the Common App. This is where the most telling part of your application comes in, the Personal Statement. The topic is you. Tell the admissions officers who you really are. And the beautiful part about the essay is not only can you write it however you want, but you can start any time. The prompts for this do not change, so start brainstorming. This is how you shine. You must use the essay to stand out. It is critical, it is simple, yet it may seem at first like a daunting task without proper guidance.

Here are some common mistakes you should avoid. Do not talk about your sport. About 25% of all college applicants write about their sports so any more is just white noise. “Oh but I learned all about determination, dedication, drive…” Stop. These character traits should be implied by your desire to apply to the school in the first place. Rather than take the time to list athletic achievements (this can be done on the actual application), think about how the admissions officer is going to get to know you in 1000 words or less. Your English teachers will happily help you with the essay itself, but only you can decide the topic. Some of the best essays include unique experiences that have shaped who you have become. What I mean by this is, on your own, think about something difficult or unexpected that you’ve overcome and tie that into who you are as a person. The admissions officers want to get to know you. Some of the best personal essays I’ve ever read include topics such as a family trip, a tragedy, or a unique community service endeavor. This is the only shot you have at getting the admissions officer to know the real you – make it count!

Community service is something valued and appreciated by any university. It shows that you’re willing to sacrifice something of yourself to do something good for others. However, a common misconception is that colleges are looking for sheer number of hours completed serving. While spending time bettering your community is noble, the idea behind showing your service to the college is manifest in your ability to communicate the unique story behind the numbers. 50 good community service hours, with unique stories, experiences and feelings behind them are better than 500 meaningless ones. Make no mistake. Colleges realize it’s not that difficult to simply obtain a large number on community service verification forms. If you have something interesting that sets yours apart from everyone else’s however, admissions officers will notice and appreciate it. 

Despite this, the most important part is to never sell yourself short. Accept challenges and set yourself apart from everyone else. Be competitive. Make yourself better than those around you and enjoy it. Be confident knowing that you now have the tools you need to submit a successful application. Don’t stress, but begin thinking and processing now. It is this sort of preparation that will cause you to be successful in college and life. So go forth, explore, think and discover and above all, get accepted.

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