Applying to college is one of the first adult responsibilities that teenagers face, and that pressure might add an extra level of anxiety to an already stressful process.
“Students have an idea in their heads of what admissions officers are looking for,” notes Mari McQuaid, a college admissions counselor at IvyWise, a consulting company that offers students college counseling and test prep. “[But] some students skimp on the details that can be advantageous to them.”
We asked McQuaid to share some advice for the high school students currently working through the application process.
Show your personality: “It’s harder to reject somebody if you feel that you kind of know them,” notes McQuaid. Too often, students are overly formal in their essays and application answers. She advises students to show colleges a bit more about their interests.
“The biggest mistake is not providing enough context,” she adds. Is there a reason you’ve always wanted to be a doctor or have chosen an education major? Including those stories will make your application richer.
“Don’t be disrespectful,” warns McQuaid, “but if you can inject your sense of humor it does make a difference. … You can kind of see the students who are overly concerned with how they come off.”
Use descriptive language: When describing things like extracurriculars and part-time jobs, students tend to be very literal, notes McQuaid. “Spin it in the best way possible,” she advises.
For example, a student who volunteers at a tutoring center often will say something like ‘I helped kids with their math homework,’ which, while true, isn’t particularly descriptive. “Saying that you mentored them or coached them sounds more impressive.” Did you have a mentor who helped you get to where you are today? “Give credit to those people,” says McQuaid. “It balances everything out in a way.”
Know the school you are applying to: Most applications have a question that simply asks students why they are interested in attending that particular school. “It’s very, very important that students do their research so that that essay is as strong as possible,” says McQuaid. She recommends that applicants go to the university’s website and look up the professors that they are likely to be taking classes with. Is there a particular class or major that intrigues you? Mentioning that – and explaining why – goes a long way.