Everyone knows that you should have transcripts, letters or recommendation and ACT and/or SAT test scores for college applications. What are some things you may not have considered that could be really helpful in applying to college?
1. What is your Ethnicity? There is an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case that will give further guidance to colleges about affirmative action. In the meantime, colleges will continue to value ethnic diversity among class members. While it may seem that you should know your ethnicity without giving it a second thought, things are not so simple. Many students have mixed-race heritages. If you are from a traditionally underrepresented ethnic group – Native American, African American, Hispanic or Pacific Islander – be sure you make this clear on your application. Based on my research, it seems that if you are at least ¼ of a particular ethnicity (i.e. one grandparent of that ethnicity), few would question that you could identify with it. You can check off multiple ethnicities if needed. The one exception to the ¼ status appears to be that of Native American – for whatever reason, a smaller fraction is necessary to claim identity. The Common Application has started requiring students who claim Native American status to answer whether they are “enrolled” in a tribe, probably because many students claim Native American background without any basis. If you know that you have some Native American ancestry, find out about tribal enrollment here:
2. Any Legacies in your Family? Many colleges value having students who have had family members previously attend. They believe, and probably rightly so, that such students will bring a great deal of school spirit and dedication to the university community. Ask around in your family and be sure that you know if you have any relatives who have attended the college to which you are applying. It certainly can’t hurt anything to make note of it in the application.
3. Have you been thorough in listing your extracurricular activities? The college application is no time for humility – remember that it’s the application that gets in, not the student. Admissions officers will only know that you have done something if you tell them. It never fails to amaze me how many students fail to realize this and leave off significant work experience or extracurricular involvement off their application. Some common things that people omit: babysitting experience, church activities, involvement in the family business, devoting significant time taking care of sick or elderly relatives, and travel experience.
4. Do you have application supplements, like a portfolio or recording, that you can submit? If you are a talented artist, musician or writer, a line on an application cannot convey the extent of your abilities. A recording, a link to your blog, or an artistic portfolio will. Colleges will often have faculty members evaluate the materials so that the admissions staff can determine just how significant a contribution you can make to the culture of the college.
5. Is there anyone who might write an extra letter of recommendation on your behalf? Sure, there are three mandatory recommendations in almost every case. But is there anything that says you can’t have someone else who knows and respects you write a letter that they directly send to the admissions office? No, there’s not. By having them send the letter directly, you will avoid looking desperate. Don’t go too crazy with this – keep it to 1-2 extra letters or it will begin to look like an orchestrated effort. I’ve known students who have had everyone from a local orchestra conductor to a former U.S. President write letters on their behalf. What do you have to lose?
6. Have you had an in-person meeting with someone at the admissions office to explain your unique situation? Maybe your ACT and SAT test scores don’t reflect your true academic talents. Maybe your parents were going through a divorce during your junior year and your grades suffered. Perhaps you had an ACL tear that caused you to lose your starting spot on the team. If you have unique circumstances, it won’t hurt anything to have a direct meeting with someone on the college admissions staff to make your case.
7. Have you built any relationships with anyone at the college? If you are already filling out your applications, it is probably too late for this. If you are an underclassman, why not attempt to cultivate a genuine intellectual relationship with a professor with whom you would love to study? You could be a research assistant, go to a public lecture that a professor is conducting and introducing yourself afterwards, or converse with a professor through their blog or social media. Make sure you are not being weird or annoying – instead, demonstrate genuine intellectual curiosity in the professor’s field of study, and you will have a powerful advocate on the inside when it comes time to apply for admission.
8. Are you going to fill a needed niche at the school? Colleges want well-rounded classes, not necessarily well-rounded students. Match your talents and interests to niches that certain colleges will have difficulty filling. Consider sports, activities and potential majors – do research to determine what the college in which you are interested needs and help them make it happen.
9. Is your application professional and free of any errors? Don’t give the admissions staff any reason to easily dismiss your application. Be certain that you have had multiple people proofread your application. The more you procrastinate, the more likely it is that you will have undiscovered errors in your application. If you are sending in a hard copy of your application, make sure it is on nice paper.
10. Have you completed the Common Application Supplements? Many colleges, especially elite ones, require essays and information beyond the normal common application. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin your work on these.
I hope you found these suggestions helpful. If so, please share it with your friends. Thanks, Brian Stewart