Many college hopefuls fret about how to make themselves stand out during the application process. Some of you may be a part of as many extracurricular activities as possible and some of you are taking an all-AP curriculum. Some of you focus on volunteering or establishing yourself in rare or unique fields. You may even be dabbling in all of these areas. They’re certainly a great way to stand out! But what most students don’t realize is that the most effective, fool-proof way of declaring uniqueness is staring you right in the face. It’s you! By taking a long, hard look at who you are you’ll be able to present a one-of-a-kind story to colleges that make you memorable. Take pride in your life, experiences, and background! It’s likely it’ll increase your chance of acceptance.
Identify What Makes You Unique
It can be hard to see what makes you special. The things that others see as unique or special about you might be invisible to you since you live them every day. So, start by asking yourself some questions. Some of these may not seem like questions college want to know the answers to, but they’ll kick-start your brain. These questions dive into who you are and what your background is like.
- Where did you grow up? How would you describe your youth? What kind of high school do you attend?
- What is an unusual family tradition? Are you part of a big family? An only child? How did this affect you growing up?
- Are you a demographic minority? What is your religious background and level of commitment?
- Who is the most significant person in your life? Why?
- Have you traveled? Do you speak multiple languages?
- Do you play any instruments? What extracurriculars are you involved in? Do you volunteer? If so, where?
- What’s the most interesting job you’ve had? What’s a considerable hardship you’ve had to overcome? Why?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?
You may notice these questions don’t really focus on academics. Schools will know everything there is to know about you academically from your transcript. What they want to know about is you. It’s your job to present them with your true, interesting self. Make them care about you! Answer these questions honestly and thoroughly. No single word or “perfect” answers. Next ask someone else to read your responses and tell you what they think stands out the most about you. They may surprise you with what they have to say! It’s better still if you ask people that consider you an acquaintance rather than a friend. Although your friends know you, they may know you too well, thus defeating the purpose of this exercise.
Start recognizing these interesting traits as your own unique characteristics. Get comfortable with the idea of talking and writing about them. These are the traits that make you stand out and memorable to colleges.
Understand Cultural Diversity
Diversity is not just about how you grew up, it’s also about your heritage. Think about where your parents were born. Is it from a different part of the US than where you live now? Was it a foreign country? What kinds of things you did to celebrate special holidays and festive occasions. We tend to forget that the way we celebrate and congratulate may be different from others! Take the time to think about where your parents come from. Think about how that affected how you interact as a family. It can give you valuable insight (and pride!) into who and how you are.
Remember Ethnic Diversity
Don’t forget that your ethnic diversity is just as valuable to your own uniqueness as your cultural background. Are you Hispanic? Asian? African-American? European? Russian? The possibilities are endless. You don’t have to have been born in a foreign country to possess ethnic diversity. This is where thinking about where your parents come from can help you figure out your own diversity. Chances are, if you have a particular ethnic background, you will also have certain customs and practices that come with it.
Think about it: Where are you really from? Not just your city and state, but your parents and grandparents’ city and state. How did that affect your upbringing? Did it make you see things differently? Did you act a certain way or live life in a particular manner because of your ethic background? Don’t forget about all those wonderful and very interesting tidbits when considering how you are stand out. Even though they may seem nothing special to you, it can be exactly that to people who want to know more about you. And that’s exactly who college admissions deans are!
Don’t Forget Personal Diversity
In addition to your cultural and ethnic background, there are many facets to your personality that aren’t molded by your heritage. Political and religious beliefs, personal strengths and weaknesses, and academic and athletic assets have done as much to shape you as everything else. Don’t forget to consider them! Although they may have been influenced by others, these traits are now a part of who you are and have made you into the person you are today. If you’re not sure where you stand on these issues, take a moment to ask yourself some more questions.
- What are my political beliefs? What do I stand strongly for or against? Am I politically knowledgeable?
- Do I have strong religious beliefs? What are they? Are they an important part of my life?
- What are my greatest strengths? How did I develop these strengths?
- What are my greatest weaknesses? Are there things I am not good at or I still need to improve on?
- What are my strongest academic subjects? Where do I excel? What are my weakest subjects or ones I need to work on the hardest to get the best result?
- Am I athletically capable? What are some of the sports I love to play? Why? Am I a good team player or do I prefer sports I can play and practice alone? Do I strive to be the leader in my sports team?
Your Experiences = You
When thinking about all your qualities and traits, it’s easy to forget that experiences made you into who you are. When writing your college essays and taking part in admissions interviews, it’s your experiences that make you stand out and become memorable. Don’t forget that the most important part of learning and gaining pride in who you are is recognizing the experiences that got you there.
To make your essays and application as strong as possible, it’s your responsibility to not just tell colleges about your personal characteristics, but show them with stories and anecdotes that showcase these traits. Don’t just tell them that you’re a great athlete. Show them! Relate a story of how your team won the State Championship. Don’t just tell them that you thrive under pressure, illustrate a story about how you took the lead role in the school play on short notice with only two days to learn all the lines and rehearse. It’s these stories—your diversity of experience—that add color and spice to the application you’re creating.
It’s difficult to write about yourself! But, if you take the time to really think about what makes you unique and taking pride in who you are, telling an unforgettable and inspiring story will come naturally. You can paint a beautiful picture to colleges that makes it impossible for them to say no. If you need a little extra guidance, consider hiring an admissions consultant! Applying to college is an overwhelming process, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s get you into your dream school.