When you apply to college, admission officers look at more than just your grades — they also take note of what you have done outside the classroom. Your extracurricular activities, such as jobs, sports, clubs and volunteer work, give colleges a better sense of who you are and show them what you can bring to their campus community.
Since applying to college is a very competitive process, developing a well-crafted student resume can put you ahead of other applicants. So, how do we prepare our impressive resume for college admissions?
The college application cycle never ends. As soon as one class is done, the next one is already beginning. The majority of college admission results are about to come out this week, so congratulations to this year’s applicants for getting through one of the toughest tests you have ever faced! Meanwhile, college admissions offices will be catching up on a little bit of rest before turning their attention to next year’s class.
If you are applying to college next year, you might already be thinking about how you can prepare. The summer before your application is a great time to review your resume and consider how you might put together the best profile to present in the Fall. Think about all of the things that you do, what they mean to you, and how you might explain them to a college admissions officer who is keen to learn more about you. Here are seven things that they often look for:
- Community Service – Community service covers a broad range of activities. Maybe you have raised money for a charity, volunteered at a food bank, or coached someone in a mentorship program. Service features prominently in the activities of many colleges, who have important civic missions as educational institutions. Thus, they value community members who know how to connect with and give back to other people. Think about the times that you have volunteered your time and effort. How have you made a difference? What did you find most memorable or rewarding?
- Sports – If you play sports at a high level, or even just recreationally, colleges like to know about it. Sporting competitions can bring out valuable qualities in people, like teamwork, sportsmanship, etc. Many colleges recruit talented players for their teams, so if you play at a high level, you could reach out to the coaches to see if they need you. Even if you play only recreationally, physical fitness is an important indicator of physical and mental balance that colleges like to see in successful students, so definitely mention your sporting hobbies on your application.
- Leadership – Leadership is sometimes easy to see from a title, like if you are the president of a club. Other times, leadership is revealed as you answer some common college application questions – for example, you might write an essay about how you led a group of your friends to overcome a difficult challenge. Many colleges will say that they aim to train the “future leaders” of the world, so they value leadership qualities in their students. You can also use this as an opportunity to show them how you interact and cooperate with other people.
- Fine Arts – Many students have talents in music, performing, or visual arts. Often, these things take lots of practice over many years, so they demonstrate positive qualities of commitment and mastery of skills. These are desirable qualities to have in a student. Besides, depending on the circumstances, colleges often recruit for specific talents to fill gaps in their student body. If you practice art at a high level and believe that you could make a direct contribution in that regard, you might consider submitting a portfolio of your work. A portfolio is a specialized piece of application material that takes some thought and preparation, so get started early if you are considering it.
- Unique Experiences – A common college application essay choice invites you to talk about your experiences growing up. Some students like to write about unique experiences that have shaped them in a special way. For example, some people spend significant time in a foreign country, have a distinctive cultural background, or have special family traditions. Often, there are specific stories that encapsulate those experiences and make for an attractive application essay. As you tell your story, remember that the reader may not have the same cultural perspective, so think about how to help the reader understand and appreciate your story, as well as to see the positive qualities that it shows about you.
- Interest in the College – Colleges are always looking for students who will make the most positive contribution to their community. One factor is whether you have a demonstrated interest in that specific college. Experience shows that students with a deep interest in a college are more likely to attend and do well if admitted. If you have a specific connection through family or friends, you can note that on your application. You can also show interest by visiting the campus, attending information sessions, and paying attention to the promotional materials sent by the college. This will also help you prepare for the popular essay question, “Why do you want to attend X college?”
- English Skills – English skills are critically important for all applicants. Many colleges require you to take four years of English classes at the high school level before you can even apply. It goes to show the importance of English reading and writing for success in college. If you are an international applicant, you might be required to take a language proficiency test, usually TOEFL or IELTS. If so, study well and get a good score. But everyone should understand that good test scores, alone, are not enough. Use the essays as an opportunity to show off your ability to express ideas through writing at college-ready level.
You might have experience with any or many of the above. Brainstorm some of your favorites and document the stories surrounding them. Together, they will create a more complete picture of you as a candidate. You can read other people’s stories for inspiration, but everyone’s stories are different, and you will have to come up with your own that reflect your unique character. The important thing is to understand why your experiences are meaningful to you, and to convey that in a genuine and heart-felt way. Your passion will make you stand out in the applicant pool.
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