How to Stand Out on Your College Application

Application tips and resources for attending the school of your dreams

The college application process can be a stressful yet exciting experience. This is your chance to show the admissions committee of your dream school why you should attend their institution. However, admission into college has become increasingly competitive. So what can you do to stand out from the thousands of applications that college admissions offices receive every year? Below are some tips on college essays, résumés, standardized testing, and interviews that can help your application package rise above the rest.

Essay: According to The Princeton Review’s College Essays that Made a Difference, admissions officers are interested in reading about three things: curiosity, passion, and persistence. Stay away from topics such as sex, drugs, and violent events, and keep from repeating anything on your formal application. Write about a meaningful life experience and keep the essay brief and focused. If possible, ask a current freshman at the school you’re applying to for tips that you can apply toward your essay.

Résumé: List three to five activities outside of the classroom that you have a passion for and significant commitment to. There is no need for a laundry list. Leadership roles, volunteering, and excellence in a specific field are all things to include.

Standardized tests: Alana Klein, spokeswoman for the College Board, says students can position themselves to be successful on the SATs by taking a rigorous curriculum throughout high school. When practicing for the SAT, visit and sign up for the “question of the day” where you can receive a different question a day in your inbox. Regular reading and writing outside of class will also be beneficial.

Entrance interviews: As with any interview, you should ask in-depth questions to show that you have taken the time to research the institution. Amy Brokl, associate director of admissions and alumni relations at Johns Hopkins University recommends thinking about what you have done for your high school community and articulating what you are seeking from your prospective college community. Be prepared to think on your feet and to talk about yourself and what’s important to you.

For more resources on the admissions process or general advice about your first year, check out these resources:

College Essays that Made a Difference, by the Princeton Review (Princeton Review; $13.95)

The New Rules of College Admissions: Ten Former Admissions Officers Reveal What It Takes To Get Into College Today, by Michael London and Stephen Kramer (Fireside; $15)

Don’t Worry, You’ll Get In: 100 Winning Tips for Stress-Free College Admissions, Mimi Doe and Michele A. Hernandez (Da Capo Press; $13.95)

The Ultimate College Survival Guide: Proven Tips and Techniques for Success, Janet Farrar Worthington and Ronald T. Farrar (Peterson’s; $14.95)

2 Responses to How to Stand Out on Your College Application

  1. Karen Alexander says:

    Looking for the article / television program regarding the business developed by two African American brothers to assist students in preparing for the SAT test. Can you provide me information on them and the business?

  2. Sonja Brown says:

    Hi Karen. You’re talking about the Bello Brothers who appeared in the Sept. 2007 issue of Black Enterprise. The name of their college prep company is called Bell Curves and they’re based in NYC. Check out their Website:

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