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Three Things I Wish I Would’ve Known Before Applying to College

Updated: Mar 28, 2022

By: Nellie G

Scared about applying to college? Need some tips going into the application process? Well, here in this article, I provide some tips and insights I wish I would have paid more attention to when applying to college:

  1. Research, research, and more research! I am not referring to the research you should do before applying to a college, such as the location, demographics, and academics (although you should do that as well); I am referring to the research you should do before writing the supplements. Supplemental materials to your application might include personal essays, a video submission, writing examples, etc. I know at first glance research may seem obvious, but you will be surprised at how many times this goes overlooked. Every college is different and is looking for different qualities. I know it can seem tempting to jump into the supplement and begin writing. However, I would advise against that. For example, if you were thinking about applying to Stanford, you should search up past supplements from students who were admitted. If you do this for each college, not only will you get an understanding of what each college is looking for, you are also setting yourself up for success. Once you do your research, you will find that Stanford does not prefer the “well-rounded” individual but an individual who has a peak in a certain activity/interest. If you play the violin, that can be your peak. It can honestly be anything you enjoy. Focus on that one activity instead of scattering your essays about all the areas in which you are successful.

  2. Don’t be afraid to get creative. When writing your personal statement and supplements, don’t be afraid to sprinkle in some of your personality. Too many times, prospective applicants tend to write in an overtly professional manner, their supplements drained of personality. While grammar and spelling are super important, your essays should not read like an entry in an academic journal. Instead, your essays should be engaging, clever, and playful. Remember the admissions committee spends around 15 minutes per application. You want to make yourself stand out as much as possible. So instead of viewing these essays as an extension of your academic work, consider viewing them as an extension of your personality.

  3. It is not about the quantity but the quality. Many prospective applicants are under the impression that they need to achieve a certain amount of extracurriculars in a short amount of time. However, it is not about the number of extracurriculars you have, but what you do with said number. Here’s an example: Applicant A is involved in five extracurricular activities while Applicant B is involved in only two. Applicant B has leadership positions in both the extracurriculars they are involved in while Applicant A is simply a member of the clubs and has no positions/titles. Applicant B would most likely stand out more because it is clear to see that they are passionate about the activities they do, so much so, that they have acquired noteworthy positions in both clubs. Most colleges can tell if a student is in a club just to be in the club. Go a step further and join clubs that truly interest you, not because you think it will look good on a college application. If you only have one or two extracurriculars you are involved in, it is completely okay as long as you a) truly enjoy the activity and b) acquired leadership positions.

With these three tips in mind, you will be sure to give yourself the best chance moving forward! By researching each school, you will know when to expect when tackling the essay portion. Adding in some creativity will allow you to stand out from the thousands of applicants applying to the same school with similar credentials. Finally, do not worry about the amount of extracurriculars you need to do, 1-2 will be sufficient, as long as these activities are things you are very passionate about; this passion should shine through in your application. I hope this helps--good luck!

By one of Teen Innovators' peer mentors, Nellie.

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