Many people smirk at the concept of “packaging” a student in the college application process. But, the hard truth is that because of the overwhelming number of applications read by admissions committees these days, it is critical and even necessary to compile a compelling application and to find a “hook” that will make the application stand out. Furthermore, this “hook” must be effectively presented throughout the application so that the application is deliberate and cohesive; every aspect of the application (the transcript, the essay, the résumé, the recommendations, and even the supplementary material) must all tie together.
What is the “hook?”
The “hook” is uniqueness: a special talent, interest, achievement, or significant experience that sets you apart from all the rest of the applicants. When an admissions reader reviews your application, the “hook” will jump off the page and then will be repeated throughout the rest of your college application for emphasis. As a result, the “hook” will undoubtedly increase your chance for admission to your favorite school because the reader will remember you!
You may not believe it, but every high school student has a “hook.” Although you may not think of yourself as special and unique, you are! All you need to do is take a few minutes and think about yourself and your experiences in life. What has made you “YOU?” What are your interests and passions? Some examples of possible hooks might be: travel; community service; socio-economic background; special talents: artistic, musical, or athletic; personal achievements; or leadership qualities.
Note: A “hook” MUST be something either truly distinctive or something you devote much energy and time to. In essence, your hook must be something that makes you different from everyone you know. For example, there are thousands of high school football players, but not too many high school defensive backs are also top of their graduating class with aspirations of becoming a physicist. That is a definite “hook!” Another more common hook might be a student who devotes massive amounts of his time to community service and has been recognized by others for his efforts.
How do you keep the theme tied to the various aspects of the application?
Let’s take the community service thematic approach mentioned above to illustrate how this might be done. In a nutshell our student has devoted all of his time and energy organizing activities at school and in the community to help hearing-impaired youngsters. His service-to-others theme needs to appear throughout his entire application.
• Transcript: In addition to a strong college preparatory course of study throughout high school, the student elected to take a Beginning Sign Language class as an elective and then pursued more advanced study as a special student at a local college.
• Essay: He wrote a heart-wrenching personal essay on his volunteer experience as the signing Santa at a local mall.
• Résumé: He made sure to list all of his activities, honors, and achievements that related to helping hearing-impaired children at the top of his chart to show their significance.
• Recommendations: In addition to his English teacher’s recommendation, which was mandated by each college, he selected the American Sign Language instructor and his employer at the Mall who hired him as the Signing Santa to write a letter of support for him.
• Interviews: He made sure to share anecdotes about his experiences helping others in his interview sessions. When asked why he wanted to attend a particular school, he spoke about his need to give back and his desire to actively engage in volunteer work in disadvantaged neighborhoods near campus.
• Supplementary Material: He included documentation of his community and school service by making copies of awards, newspaper articles about his efforts, and letters of appreciation from parents and several hearing-impaired students.
Now it’s your turn. Develop your own personal theme and make your application stand out!
A rule to remember: Do NOT try to tell colleges what you think they want to hear; tell them what YOU want them to know about YOU! Packaging your authentic self can pay off in a big way!