Home

What Makes a College Application Stand Out?

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    Scroll to Top

    Competition for admission to top colleges and universities is fiercer than ever before. At elite institutions like the Ivy League schools, Stanford, MIT, and others, acceptance rates have plummeted to record lows in recent years. With so many exceptional students vying for a limited number of spots, how can you ensure your college application stands out from the crowd?

    While there is no single formula for getting admitted, there are several key areas applicants should focus on to capture admissions officers’ attention. From demonstrating academic excellence to crafting an engaging personal statement, this multi-dimensional approach is crucial for positioning yourself as a truly compelling candidate.

    Complimentary Initial Consultation

    Fill out this form to book your complimentary initial consultation.

    Academic excellence

    Your academic profile lays the foundation for your college application and is a prime opportunity to showcase your intellectual vitality. Above all, admissions committees care about the rigor of your high school curriculum. They want to see that you’ve challenged yourself by taking the most difficult classes available, such as:

    • Honors courses
    • Advanced Placement (AP) classes

    • International Baccalaureate (IB) program
    • Dual enrollment in college-level courses

    Along with a rigorous course load, they’ll closely evaluate your grade point average (GPA) and look for an upward trend in performance if your grades wavered early on.

    Standardized test scores on the SAT or ACT also remain an important factor for many colleges. While not everything, your scores provide an objective measure of your academic preparedness compared to other applicants. Top students often invest significant time preparing for entrance exams.

    Beyond pure academics, admissions officers love to see evidence of your passion for learning. This could include independent research projects, published academic work, participation in subject-related competitions, or involvement with academic clubs or societies. Pursuing your interests outside the classroom reinforces your intellectual curiosity.

    Compelling personal statement

    personal statement essay The personal statement essay. We know you’ve heard about this time and time again. While numbers and statistics are important, at its core, the college admissions process is deeply personal. One of the best ways to stand out in your college applications is through crafting an insightful and introspective personal statement.

    The personal statement is your opportunity to showcase your remarkable character, values, and life experiences. Admissions officers don’t just want to know what you’ve achieved academically — they want to understand who you are as an individual and what motivates you.

    An excellent personal statement will allow your unique voice and personality to shine through. The most engaging essays avoid clichés and delve into meaningful events, challenges, interests, or relationships that have shaped your perspective. Successful applicants aren’t afraid to open up about vulnerabilities, growth mindsets, and future aspirations.

    Some potential personal statement topics could explore:

    The personal statement essay. We know you’ve heard about this time and time again. While numbers and statistics are important, at its core, the college admissions process is deeply personal. One of the best ways to stand out in your college applications is through crafting an insightful and introspective personal statement.

    The personal statement is your opportunity to showcase your remarkable character, values, and life experiences. Admissions officers don’t just want to know what you’ve achieved academically — they want to understand who you are as an individual and what motivates you.

    An excellent personal statement will allow your unique voice and personality to shine through. The most engaging essays avoid clichés and delve into meaningful events, challenges, interests, or relationships that have shaped your perspective. Successful applicants aren’t afraid to open up about vulnerabilities, growth mindsets, and future aspirations.

    Some potential personal statement topics could explore:

    • Overcoming obstacles or setbacks
    • Family background stories
    • Finding your passion or redefining your purpose
    • Making an impact through community service
    • Unique interests, talents, or life experiences

    With creativity and vulnerability, an outstanding personal statement can truly elevate your college application and highlight what makes you special. Let your authentic self shine through on the page.

    With creativity and vulnerability, an outstanding personal statement can truly elevate your college application and highlight what makes you special. Let your authentic self shine through on the page.

    personal statement essay

    Meaningful extracurricular activities

    Now let’s talk about extracurriculars. Academics are likely your top priority, but admissions officers also want to see that you’ve pursued meaningful extracurricular activities and developed important skills outside the classroom. Your extracurricular profile showcases your interests, initiative, time management abilities, and potential to contribute to the campus community.

    However, colleges aren’t merely looking for a lofty list of clubs and activities. They care much more about the depth and quality of your involvement over time. It’s better to concentrate your efforts on just a few key areas that you’re truly passionate about.

    For example, an applicant who founded their own non-profit organization to address a cause they care about will likely make a bigger impression than someone who signed up for 10 clubs but didn’t take on any leadership responsibilities. Admissions officers want to see sustained commitment over four years of high school.

    Some examples of compelling extracurricular activities could include:

    • Starting your own business or undertaking an entrepreneurial venture
    • Competitive performance arts like dance, music, or theater
    • Impactful community service or volunteer work
    • Sports team leadership positions or individual athletic achievements
    • Employment or internships, especially related to your interests
    • Student government, debate team, or academic clubs/competitions

    Essentially, you want to construct an applicant profile that goes beyond just checking boxes. Tell a coherent narrative about the experiences, skills, and passions that have shaped your journey so far.

    Glowing letters of recommendation

    recommendation letters Don’t let your letter of recommendation be an afterthought. The letters of recommendation included in your application carry significant weight with admissions committees. Along with your personal statement, these letters provide external perspectives that offer deeper insight into your character, values, and academic abilities beyond just the numbers.

    When requesting letters of recommendation, think carefully about which teachers or mentors know you best from the classroom. You’ll want to choose those who can speak effusively about your intellectual curiosity, commitment to learning, perseverance, integrity, and other exemplary personal qualities.

    The most compelling recommendations don’t simply praise your academic performance, but shed light on the type of person you are through illustrative examples and anecdotes. They discuss specific strengths, areas of growth, and provide insight into how you might contribute to the college community.

    To put your best foot forward, provide your recommenders with ample time, information, and guidance on your goals. Share your resume, personal statement, and specific details about courses and assignments that highlight your skills. With thoughtful preparation, your recommenders can craft truly glowing letters that elevate your college application.

    The goal of the letters of recommendation is to have respected figures validate the unique promise and potential you’ve hinted at throughout the rest of your application materials. With enthusiastic recommendations, you’ll have valuable reinforcement of all the qualities that make you stand out.

    Don’t let your letter of recommendation be an afterthought. The letters of recommendation included in your application carry significant weight with admissions committees. Along with your personal statement, these letters provide external perspectives that offer deeper insight into your character, values, and academic abilities beyond just the numbers.

    When requesting letters of recommendation, think carefully about which teachers or mentors know you best from the classroom. You’ll want to choose those who can speak effusively about your intellectual curiosity, commitment to learning, perseverance, integrity, and other exemplary personal qualities.

    The most compelling recommendations don’t simply praise your academic performance, but shed light on the type of person you are through illustrative examples and anecdotes. They discuss specific strengths, areas of growth, and provide insight into how you might contribute to the college community.

    To put your best foot forward, provide your recommenders with ample time, information, and guidance on your goals. Share your resume, personal statement, and specific details about courses and assignments that highlight your skills. With thoughtful preparation, your recommenders can craft truly glowing letters that elevate your college application.

    The goal of the letters of recommendation is to have respected figures validate the unique promise and potential you’ve hinted at throughout the rest of your application materials. With enthusiastic recommendations, you’ll have valuable reinforcement of all the qualities that make you stand out.

    recommendation letters

    Demonstrated interest

    With so many highly qualified applicants to choose from, admissions officers are not just evaluating your abilities – they also want to admit students who will actually attend if accepted. That’s why it’s crucial to demonstrate your genuine, informed interest in each college or university.

    There are many ways to show that you’ve gone beyond just submitting an application. Campus visits, sitting in on classes, meeting with faculty, and connecting with regional alumni interviewers – these are all great ways to deepen your understanding of an institution. The insight and enthusiasm you’ll gain will also help you craft thoughtful and specific supplemental essays.

    For example, if you had an engaging conversation with a professor about their research during your campus tour, you could expand on your shared academic interests in your “Why This College?” essay. Specific references like this convey sincere excitement rather than just echoing the website.

    Other ways to showcase demonstrated interest include:

    • Corresponding with admissions counselors to ask insightful questions
    • Attending local information sessions or college fairs
    • Connecting with current students to get an authentic preview
    • Engaging with the school’s social media, blogs, and online content
    • Participating in summer programs, competitions, or workshops hosted by the college

    Ultimately, you want there to be no doubt that if accepted to that institution, you plan to enroll. Your interest should be clear and backed by actions, not just words. Colleges want students who will thrive and actively get involved on their campuses.

    By going the extra mile to immerse yourself in each college’s distinct culture and opportunities, you’ll be able to craft an application that shows you’d be an invested, enthusiastic member of that community. Demonstrated interest is an integral part of setting yourself apart.

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    Cornell college application Standing out in the college admissions process requires a multidimensional approach that allows you to showcase your unique strengths, personality, and potential. From academic excellence and meaningful extracurriculars to an authentic personal statement and enthusiastic recommendations, it’s about painting a comprehensive portrait of who you are and what you can contribute.

    While the components of a standout application are consistent, the application process itself can be overwhelming. If you need personalized guidance along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! Our experts can advise on everything from building a balanced college list to conquering application essays. We’re here to help you shine.

    Standing out in the college admissions process requires a multidimensional approach that allows you to showcase your unique strengths, personality, and potential. From academic excellence and meaningful extracurriculars to an authentic personal statement and enthusiastic recommendations, it’s about painting a comprehensive portrait of who you are and what you can contribute.

    While the components of a standout application are consistent, the application process itself can be overwhelming. If you need personalized guidance along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! Our experts can advise on everything from building a balanced college list to conquering application essays. We’re here to help you shine.

    Cornell college application

    Contact a Prepory college admissions coach and start your college admissions journey.

    Our college admissions experts are here to guide you from where you are to where you should be. Through our comprehensive curriculum, individualized coaching, and online workshops, you are set for success as soon as you connect with us.

    During our initial consultation, we will: 

    • Assess your student’s applicant profile and higher education goals 
    • Provide detailed information about our services and programming
    • Share tips on how to navigate the U.S. college admissions process 

    Let's get started!


    Subscribe to our blog!