After you have finished your college visits and interviews, you should have your “ideal” college choices narrowed down to no more than 10 (preferably 6-8). Now that the hard work of selecting the colleges that you want to apply to is completed, it is time to look at the college application.
To some students a college application is just a listing of biographical data, grades, test scores, and activities. But it is far more than that! It is a portrait of yourself that you present to the admissions committee. As we have discussed previously, it is the mission of the admissions committee to build a community of interesting, intelligent young people who will make the campus come alive. Therefore, it is up to you to show the committee members through the various components of your application what sets you apart from other applicants. You have the power to make all of the parts of the application come together through one unifying theme so that they will really come to know and remember the person behind the application and want that special person on their campus.
Let’s now take a quick look at the three major elements of the college application that the admissions committee must evaluate in making their final decision: the academic history, the personal profile, and the supporting documents.
The Academic History
The Academic History is a showcase of your academic performance throughout high school, both in the classroom and in the testing arena. As you might expect, it consists of:
- Your grades throughout high school
- The courses that you enrolled in
- The rigor of the coursework you selected
- Your standardized testing results (PSAT, SAT I, SAT II, and ACT)
- Your class rank
Colleges seek strong, capable students who will be up to the challenge of college level coursework. However, they need evidence to support their belief in your outstanding potential as a college student. Your academic profile provides them with a measure of your ability and achievement compared to other applicants from not only your high school but from all over the country. All of your hard work in difficult classes and scholastic accomplishments will pay off for you now if you have a stellar record.
Although colleges do want bright, capable students on campus, high SAT scores and top grades are not the only factors they consider. The other half of the equation in creating a vibrant, contributing student body is the personal element.
The Personal Profile
The second major consideration in evaluating you as a college applicant is the Personal Profile, which consists of:
- Your essays
- Your resumé
- Possibly your interview
This is the portion of the application in which you need to showcase the other half of you, your personal side. Just as the Academic Profile highlighted your scholastic achievement, now the Personal Profile should bring you and your personality to life.
This section demands your full attention and dedication to the final product because what you say in your essays and resumé and how you say it can make a huge difference in the admissions outcome. This is your chance to position yourself and set yourself apart from other applicants.
In writing your essay, make yourself jump off the page in a positive way so that the admissions officer will remember you and want you to be a part of their college community. Similarly, your resumé should reflect what you are trying to get the admissions officer to perceive about you. Your involvement in the activities you list and the contributions you make to the school and community-at-large should demonstrate depth and true commitment. This is your opportunity to sell yourself! Tell them all about your accomplishments. Don’t be shy, but don’t be arrogant either!
Finally, your interview is another chance to shine and showcase your personality, your interests, your special talents, and what you can contribute to the college. Just remember to relax during the interview so that the real you can emerge, and the admissions officer will be able to get to know you well!
The Supporting Documents
The last element of the college application includes:
- Teacher recommendations
- Guidance counselor recommendation
- The School Report form
- Any supplementary material you submit to be included in your file
These supporting documents serve to tie the other two categories together and corroborate how you position yourself throughout your application.
Because of the importance of these documents to college admissions officers, it is critical to choose wisely the teachers who will write in your support. Since colleges place a lot of weight on these evaluative letters, the teachers you choose must be able to write substantive comments rather than bland, generic commentary. They also have to have strong written communication skills to write with clarity and specificity about your academic ability and achievement in their class, your growth potential, and your outstanding personal qualities.
The Secondary School Report will provide an overview of your academic record and achievement in relationship to your peers in your class. The recommendation that your guidance counselor will provide is essentially a composite recommendation in that s/he will describe his/her personal perceptions of you as a scholar and as a member of the student body and then substantiate these observations with comments from all your teachers.
Tip! If you have a flaw on your academic record, request that your counselor provide relevant information to offset any negative first impression this might make on the application reader. For instance, perhaps you had all honor grades on your record except for one C+ in Honors English III taught by Mrs. Smith that really stood out on your transcript. Your counselor could relate the fact that Mrs. Smith is a teacher who never awards a grade higher than a B, and despite knowing this fact, you still opted to take Mrs. Smith’s class rather than trying to get into another class because Mrs. Smith is a great teacher who intellectually challenges her students. Your counselor’s relating this information will turn a negative into a positive!
Lastly, you might want to enclose some supplementary material for the admissions committee to review that would reinforce the way you positioned yourself in the application. What are supplemental materials? Here are some examples:
- You might submit a CD of you playing the piano or singing or performing in your band, even if you are not a music major, because you have musical talent and plan to take music classes in college or want to be active in the college’s music program
- Maybe you send in an art portfolio or a published poem or article, especially if you received state or national recognition for the piece
- You might consider asking a coach or an activity adviser in the school or community for a supplementary recommendation if they know you well and can address some significant contributions you have made to that activity
Be mindful of the fact that any supplementary material must be truly impressive work that would document your special ability or talents. Do not waste the admissions officer’s time in submitting mediocre work. Also, do not send in book reports or term papers. Once in a while, colleges will request that you send in a corrected assignment, but, otherwise, an admissions reader does not want to plow through high school papers. You want to help your chances for admissions; not hurt them! Think of supplementary materials as showing an exceptional product that demonstrates another side of you.