Make Your College Applications Stand Out

Admission staff read hundreds of applications every year. Here's how to help them remember yours.

All college applications have one thing in common at first—they're blank. So how do you turn an empty form into a testimony to your personality, achievements, and enthusiasm?

Take the Application Instructions Seriously

Allow plenty of time to complete your application, so you have time to review and double-check it. Stay within the maximum word counts for your essay and short answers. Don't include extra materials unless the college specifically invites you to do so. And don't include any "gimmicks," such as food. Admission departments only find them irritating.

Jump Right Into Your Story in Your Essays and Short Answers

Many college application readers say that a great opening line and a small, "slice of life" story capture their attention and make the applicant memorable. So write about how specific moments in your life affected you. For example, let's say becoming friends with an elderly neighbor taught you a lot about endurance in hard times. You could write about her story of saving string and paper during the Great Depression, and how she affected your outlook on life.

Show You Have Researched the College

Nothing irritates application readers more than an applicant who uses the wrong college name or incorrect college facts in his application. Or who writes essays and short answers so general they have no idea why he wants to attend. So mention the specific features of the college that appeal to you in your essays and short answers. For example, you could mention the college's program in your major or a certain professor you want to work with. Get your facts straight and don't leave the impression that you wrote a cookie-cutter application that could apply to any college.

Mention How You've Demonstrated Your Interest

Application readers will gauge how truly interested you are in their college. So mention any visits you have made to the campus, and conversations you have had with college representatives, professors, and student leaders. Show that you've researched the college's website in depth by mentioning information you have to dig for, such as the college's mission statement or certain classes in your major.

More Tips for Stand-Out Applications

Apply early. If you are seriously excited about a college, applying in the fall for an early action decision will put your application at the front of the line. If the college is your solid top choice, nothing makes you stand out more than applying for an early decision.

Include a resume of your accomplishments. You might be outstanding in ways not asked about in the application. Just be sure the college accepts resumes with applications.

Manage your online self. Make sure your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts show the person you want the college to see.

What's Next?