Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Q & A: Standing Out in the Applicant Pools of Top Colleges

Q: One more thing sohan, you said that everyone at this level will have a similar resume as me. so how competitive do you think I'll be among those who do what I did? About how many people do you know in your class that have about the same things I have?

What does it mean to stand out in an applicant pool?

A: When I say "everyone at this level will have a similar resume as you," I mean that students at your level will have accomplishments of similar magnitude and scope, though they are not necessarily the same exact activities.

These "similar" accomplishments are usually the academic ones - e.g., NHS, quizbowl, honor roll, math league, science league, and other academic achievements/clubs. I feel that such distinctions, as well as a certain GPA, SAT score, etc., are just about required to reach a certain tier in the applicant pool.

What you do besides your academics (or if you have extraordinary academic achievements, such as winning a national science fair or the likes), sets you apart in this tier. To clarify, everyone applying to top schools is undoubtedly smart, but you have to show that you are committed, diligent, charismatic, service-oriented, and a whole slew of adjectives.

Note: The poster volunteered his efforts for Hurricane Katrina relief, and subsequently won the Prudential Spirit of Community Award and the Presidential Service Award for his community service.

For example, your service work for victims of Hurricane Katrina is impressive and will set you apart. What you write about in your essays will set you apart. If you wrote a superb essay about how you helped out victims of Hurricane Katrina, I think that would put you at another level, because it's something that not every student does, and it reveals something about your character.

You can really divulge this "extra" information about yourself in your essays, which is where you want to reveal your character.

On a side note, I find that the top colleges like students who not only smart, but also are EXTREMELY proficient in on area or activity rather than someone who is generally well-rounded. If you do something BIG in one club or activity, it counts more than participating in numerous clubs and sports teams. You have done excellent work in community service and should make sure you emphasize this point and its impact on your character.

Even if you haven't had some wonderful opportunity, in the end it all depends on how you spin your accomplishments to make them sound important, to be honest.


  1. I am currently a junior, and so iI have one more summer to fit in some activities that could help me stand out. Every year, I go on a mission trip with my church and volunteer at a local hospital, and I would like to continue these activities. Any suggestions on other things I could participate in? I'm also thinking about going on a youth leadership conference for a week. What do you suggest? (I've never had any job experience so do you think that I should be employed this summer?)

  2. Hey,

    To which youth leadership conference are you thinking about going? Just curious: is it a part of the National Youth Leadership Forum? If so, or if you think it might be similar, take a look at this thread for some different opinions on the seminar:

    If you're thinking about going to that seminar, just post back, because I can tell you about the experiences some of my friends had who went to those.

    The mission trip and volunteer work sounds like a nice, productive way to spend a summer. If you can find somewhat meaningful work, i.e. not working at a Burger King, then I would suggest looking for employment. You will have to start asking around and applying NOW (or more realistically, after the new year) for jobs. It never looks good having an empty section for work experience.

    If you cannot find a job, though, then consider committing more hours to your volunteer work, or finding other opportunities for volunteer work. Colleges love to see community service, and you can might be able to gather experiences as material for your colleges essays.

    Just a heads up: many of my college applications asked what activities I did either the last summer (which will be this one coming up for you) or for all three summers. The activities they suggested you write included going on vacations, playing sports, reading books, volunteering, working, etc. Think about how you're going to spend this summer and how you will answer this question next year.


  3. Yes, actually I was thinking about NYLF. What did your friends think?

  4. I HIGHLY suggest you do much research on NYLF before attending, because it is pretty controversial.

    Read all of this thread:

    The way that NYLF nominates people is known to be somewhat shady; they say that they nominate students based on PSAT/SAT scores and if you checked one of those boxes for "I'd like to receive information from . . . " However, their standard for nomination is somewhat low, so the program is not as prestigious as it sounds. I've heard and read that they've accepted PSAT scores in a range of 138+ (out of 240). Therefore, the weight it will have on your college application depends on the tier of schools to which you're applying.

    However, the experience itself can be worthwhile. Almost any time when a student goes out on his own in one of these academic-camp type situations, there's always a good experience. My friends who did it made some good friends, had fun, and learned a bit about their respective fields.

    One of my friends who recently went to the NYLF: Medicine said that he met some interesting and important people, but that the program consisted primarily of somewhat boring panel discussions. He still had a good time, as he was in an environment of his peers.

    So that said, there's two sides to the story. Some people think it's a scam - that they exploit families' egos with shiny, embossed letters, while others think it's a great opportunity to gain familiarity with the field of your pursuit.

    As I said, do the research and weigh both sides accordingly. If money is an issue, then I believe (but don't quote me on it) that they can give scholarships. Or maybe that was a different program.

    Best of luck,

  5. Hi Sohan,

    I'm now a junior and will soon be a senior this September. I came from China to the US for high school(junior and senior years) would like to stay here for college. My GPA thus far is 4.0 and my SAT is around 2150. The extracurriculars I'm involved are: Newspaper Editor, Chinese and Physcis Peer Tutor, International Student Club, School Tour Guide, Math Team, Mentor of the Sophomore Connection, Penny fellowship volunteer group, Winter Musical, Lacrosse team, Ballet(I have passed the highest level of ballet in China and have performed many times), Piano(Passed Level three), Performance Host( In my old high school), worked during summer at a software company, group leader of a Roots and Shoots group in China.
    I have also organized several activities such as : selling community old books to raise money for the earthquake in China.

    How do you think of my resume? Are there any more extracurrilars I can do to make them better?

    Thank you!!

  6. Also, I'll soon join the Roots and Shoots New England Leadership Council.


  7. If I tutor a teacher's kid piano and get paid, should that be counted a a job?