How will you benefit from attending our college? What will you contribute to our college? While you may not see these questions appearing on your college applications, if you address these topics in your applications, you will set yourself apart from other applicants and make a persuasive case for your admission.
It may seem obvious, but students sometimes lose sight of the fact that colleges are academic institutions, and they are looking for people who love to learn. Someone whose idea of fun is discussing Kant’s moral philosophy will take full advantage of the opportunities for intellectual engagement in college. When admission officers read an application from a student who has demonstrated this kind of love of learning by pursuing opportunities beyond her high school classroom, they feel confident she will benefit from attending their school.
Admission officers make assumptions about what you will contribute to their college based on what you have contributed to your high school or community. The more selective the college, the greater the been in order to stand out. While tutoring children who are living in a shelter for homeless families is certainly a valuable contribution, organizing a program to match every child with a mentor, recruiting other students to participate, and expanding that program to other shelters would have the kind of impact that is not very common.
If the activities you pursue have a theme, you can focus your application on that theme, which helps admission officers get a clear picture of your values and interests. When an aspiring anthropologist has volunteered every Saturday at a museum where he’s developed a program to introduce children to other cultures, taken anthropology classes at community college and spent a summer on an archaeological dig, he will be able to put together a cohesive and compelling application.
Of course, not everyone has a defining intellectual or career interest, and students shouldn’t feel pressured to choose something to pursue in depth just because it will look good on applications. In fact, balancing a scientific or technical side with an interest in something artistic is another way to stand out. A young woman who loves physics and engineering, but also writes poetry that she reads at a local coffeehouse could be very interesting to admission officers.
If you have a range of interests, spend some time during high school exploring them. But remember, pursuing a FEW activities in depth is generally better than minimal involvement in a lot of activities.
It makes no sense to push yourself into an activity you don’t like. Since you want to find something that you can sustain for several years, it should be something you enjoy. Summer is a good time to explore your interests by getting involved in community service or research opportunities. If you can’t find an established program or internship, try creating your own.
For example, a student who is on his school’s basketball team might combine his love of the sport with community service by organizing a program for children at a recreation center.
Find something you love to do and any impact it may have on your college applications will just be a bonus.