According to AdmitSee, the average student applies to 8 or 9 schools. Credit: Digital Vision According to AdmitSee, the average student applies to 8 or 9 schools.
Credit: Digital Vision

To the average high school senior, creating the perfect college application can seem like a golden ticket into their future. Students and their parents spend months - or even years - trying to pick the right extracurriculars, craft the perfect essays and generally put their best foot forward.

Despite all of these efforts, the college application process remains shrouded in mystery. The new startup AdmitSee says it wants to shed some light on the world of college admissions. The company has collected hundreds of successful applications from students at some of the company’s top universities, providing high schoolers with a profile of what catches the eye of admissions officers.

“I think what people are most nervous about is the question of ‘How do I make myself stand out from the crowd,’” says AdmitSee cofounder Stephanie Shyu. She and business partner Lydia Pierce Fayal launched the site last year.


We talked to the pair about some of the trends AdmitSee’s data reveals about what a successful college application looks like. Here are the answers to some common questions about the application process.

How many schools do most students apply to?

The average student applies to 8.35 according to Admitsee. But that number just paints part of the picture, as a growing number are applying to 10 or more schools.

“According to our data, 25 percent of students are applying to 11+ schools,” says Fayal. But, interestingly, it seems like most students apply for schools that turn out to be pretty good fits for their academic profiles. With a mean acceptance rate of 4.8 schools, most students have several institutions to choose from when it comes to making their big decision.

What do applicants write their personal essay about?

Finding the perfect essay topic can be agonizing, but it turns out that most students stick to three fairly basic themes.

They are:

1) Creative personal story

2) Issue of personal significance

3) Family background

Guess what the most popular word to start an essay off with is?

Given the topics listed above, it’s probably no surprise that Shyu and Fayal found that the nearly half of the essays they collected began with either the word “I” or “I’m.”

Aside from revealing just how personal most personal essays really are, the popularity of the pronoun can also be a disadvantage to certain students. “It just goes to show how international students who are not familiar writing in the first person may be at a disadvantage when attempting to convey their stories,” says Shyu, Interestingly, most of these quotes are not famous or from literature. “Students often quote personal conversations as a segue into an anecdote,” says Shyu.

What kinds of extracurricular activities do colleges like?

It turns out, according to AdmitSee’s data, that most students who apply to the country’s top colleges are drawn to a core set of afterschool activities. Those activities are:

National Honor Society

Tutoring or mentoring

Student Council / Student Government

(Tied for 4th): Debate Team; Math Team; School newspaper or magazine

Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.

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