3 Ways to Stand Out in the College Admissions Process

With millions of students applying to college each year, it can be a struggle to stand out. But there’s no way around it: your students must be unique. A Stanford University admissions reader was recently quoted as saying:

"At Stanford, when reading applications, we did use one acronym in particular—SP ("standard positive"), which indicated that the student was solid and had an overall positive application, but unfortunately was just standard.” (Source)

“Just standard” isn’t how you want admissions officers remembering your student. So here are three ways your student can stand out from the crowd when applying to selective colleges:

1. Tell a coherent story.

Given the stiff competition, it feels like your student has to do everything. Music, sports, student government, volunteering, tutoring...the list goes on. But if you think about it, that’s not an interesting story—it jumps all over the place and doesn’t feel rooted in anything.

Try to think of your student’s journey toward college as a tree. They have to lay down their roots, and form a trunk—and only then can they start growing branches. If they don’t have the roots and trunk in place, those branches will fall right off when the first storm of the (application) season hits.

2. Follow at least one interest in depth.

You might be excited that your student plays varsity baseball, is in the National Honors Society, and gets straight A’s. But here’s the thing: everyone has that same story. Your student needs to pick one interest and follow it in depth. If soccer is actually important to your student, then they shouldn’t just be playing on the varsity team: they should be volunteering at a baseball camp, interning at ESPN, and doing their AP Statistics project about baseball stats.

The goal: your student will showcase their unique interests while demonstrating that they are committed to them. Plus, if your student is truly passionate, they’ll enjoy the entire journey.

3.. Use internships to your benefit.

Internships are beneficial no matter how you slice it, but if your student navigates the process well, they can use these gigs to further distinguish themselves. Especially if they’re not as strong academically, an internship will allow your student to show their outside-of-school prowess. For example, they could intern somewhere that’s hosting a massive summer conference; that way, they can highlight the conference as a tangible outcome of the work they did.

In fact, your student can even use a regular summer job—one they take to make extra cash—and spin it into a resume stand-out. For example, if your student gets a summer job at Old Navy, they should ask to be put in charge of inventory for the summer. It shows leadership, drive, and responsibility.

If your student takes these three things into consideration, they’ll be a non-standard positive—and that’s what’s going to make admissions officers do a double take.