How to Stand Out in a Competitive College Admissions Process

Updated: May 8, 2023 You’re our #1 priority.
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how to stand out in college applications

Are you starting to apply to colleges and feeling the pressure?

You’re not alone.

The college application process can be a daunting and overwhelming experience for high school students, especially given the increasing competition for coveted spots at prestigious institutions. 

Knowing how to stand out in college applications is crucial in capturing the attention of college admissions officers and securing your place at your dream school. In this blog post, we will delve into the various aspects of the college application process and provide unique tips for your admissions essay and strategies for standing out among your peers.

Academic Performance

One of the primary factors that college admissions committees consider when evaluating prospective students is their academic performance in high school. Excelling in high school classes, particularly challenging courses such as honors courses and Advanced Placement (AP) classes, demonstrates to admissions officers your commitment to academic success and your ability to handle college-level coursework. In addition, many colleges award college credit for high AP test scores, which can help you save time and money in the long run.

Beyond taking honors classes and AP classes as a high school student, consider enrolling in college courses at local community colleges or through online platforms. Participating in a college honors program or taking college classes can further distinguish you from your peers. It can also help you showcase your dedication to pursuing a higher level of education for the admissions committee reviewing your college application.

Standardized Test Scores

stand out with college applications

Scores on standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, play a significant role in the admissions process for most colleges. High test scores can help set you apart from other applicants and demonstrate your aptitude for college-level work past high school.

To improve your scores, consider working with a tutor, enrolling in a test prep course, or utilizing online resources to develop a study plan tailored to your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t forget to take practice tests regularly, as they can help you identify areas that need improvement and acclimate you to the testing environment.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities are essential for college and the application process, as they reveal your interests, passions, and character to admissions committees. Engaging in a diverse array of activities, such as school clubs, sports, and the arts, can demonstrate your well-roundedness and versatility. However, it is crucial to focus on quality over quantity—committing to a few activities that genuinely interest you and where you can make a meaningful impact is more valuable than participating in numerous activities with little involvement or dedication.

Leadership skills are highly sought after by college admissions officers, so seeking leadership roles within your extracurricular activities can be advantageous. This could include serving as a team captain, club president, or school newspaper editor. Additionally, consider looking for part-time jobs or internships related to your career path or areas of interest, as these experiences can further showcase your commitment and passion.

Community Service

community service for college applications

Volunteering and community service are personally rewarding and demonstrate your empathy, compassion, and willingness to contribute to the greater good. Many colleges value students who are dedicated to making a positive impact in their local community or the world at large.

As you explore volunteering opportunities, try to find causes that genuinely resonate with you and where you can make a long-term commitment. This could include working at a local food bank, tutoring underprivileged students, or volunteering at a summer camp for children with special needs.

Crafting a Compelling Personal Narrative

The college essay is a vital aspect of the college application process, as it allows you to express your unique voice, experiences, and perspective to admissions committees. A well-crafted personal statement can help you make your college application stand out and leave a lasting impression on admissions counselors. Brainstorm significant moments in your life that have shaped your identity, values, and aspirations, and use these experiences as the foundation for writing your admissions essay. Be authentic, reflective, and engaging in your writing, and avoid using clichés or generic statements.

When it comes to supplementary materials, such as letters of recommendation, it is essential to build strong relationships with teachers, guidance counselors, and mentors who can vouch for your character, work ethic, and accomplishments. Give them ample time to write thoughtful letters and consider sharing a list of your achievements and goals to help them craft a more personalized recommendation.

Demonstrating Interest in Your Target Colleges

Showing genuine interest in the colleges you are applying to can help you stand out in the eyes of admissions representatives. Research each college thoroughly, understanding its values, academic offerings, and campus culture. Attend college fairs and information sessions, and engage with admissions officers and alumni to learn more about the school and demonstrate your enthusiasm. Visit the campus to get a firsthand feel for the learning environment and connect with faculty or students. Many colleges track demonstrated interest, and actively engaging with the school can help you make a lasting impression on the admissions office.

What Will Help You Stand Out the Most in the Application Process?

stand out in college applications

Developing a unique selling proposition (USP) for your college application can be a powerful way to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Your USP should combine your strengths, interests, and passions, showcasing your dedication and consistency in your pursuits. For instance, if you are passionate about environmental conservation, you might demonstrate this through leadership roles in a school environmental club, volunteering at a local nature preserve, and conducting research projects on sustainability.

Working with an experienced and trustworthy college admissions consultant that has helped other students stand out in the process is one of the best strategies you can follow.

5 Tips for Standing Out With Your College Application

  1. Develop a strong online presence: In today’s digital age, your social media presence and online portfolio can significantly influence your college application process. Create a professional website showcasing your accomplishments, interests, and work samples, and maintain a positive social media presence that reflects your values and passions. Engage with relevant online communities and leverage social media platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter to connect with professionals in your field of interest.
  2. Participate in national or international competitions: Competing in math, science, writing, or other subject-specific competitions can help you stand out as a top performer in your area of interest. In addition, success in these competitions can provide additional accomplishments to highlight in your application and demonstrate your dedication to your chosen field.
  3. Seek specialized certifications or courses: Pursuing online courses or certifications in areas of interest can showcase your commitment to learning beyond the standard high school curriculum. In addition, participating in specialized summer programs and workshops or earning certifications can help you develop valuable skills, explore potential career paths, and demonstrate your passion for a specific subject.
  4. Build connections with professors or professionals in your field of interest: Establishing relationships with experts in your chosen field can provide valuable insights, networking opportunities, and potential mentorship. Conduct informational interviews, shadow professionals, or collaborate on research projects or publications to further distinguish yourself from your peers.
  5. Showcase your entrepreneurial spirit: If you have a knack for innovation and problem-solving, consider launching a small business or social venture or initiating a club or organization in your community or school. Demonstrating your entrepreneurial spirit can highlight your creativity, resourcefulness, and ability to take the initiative, qualities that are highly valued by college admissions committees.

Get Help Standing Out From Admissions Consultants


As you navigate the college application process, remember that standing out is about showcasing your authentic self and highlighting your unique strengths and passions. By following these tips and strategies, you will be well on your way to crafting a memorable and impressive application that sets you apart from the competition and brings you one step closer to receiving that coveted acceptance letter from your dream school.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How important are extracurricular activities in the admissions process?

Extracurricular activities showcase your interests, passions, and dedication outside of academics. They also demonstrate your ability to manage time, collaborate with others, and contribute to your community.

How can I improve my standardized test scores?

Diagnose your strengths and weaknesses, create a study plan, and use high-quality study materials. Consider enrolling in a prep course, hiring an admissions consultant or tutor, or joining a study group. Practice regularly with timed practice tests and review your mistakes to learn from them.

What should I consider when selecting the colleges to apply to?

Research colleges based on factors such as location, size, academic programs, campus culture, and financial aid availability. Identify your priorities and preferences, and create a balanced list of reach, target, and safety schools.

How can I ensure my personal essays effectively convey my unique story?

Focus on authenticity, reflection, and storytelling. Write about unique experiences, personal growth, or lessons learned that showcase your character and values. Edit and revise your essays multiple times, and seek feedback from trusted mentors or peers.

What are some strategies for obtaining strong letters of recommendation?

Cultivate relationships with teachers, counselors, or mentors who know you well and can speak to your strengths. Request recommendations well in advance, and provide them with information about your accomplishments, goals, and the colleges you are applying to.

How can I use my online presence to stand out in the college application process?

A solid online presence can demonstrate your expertise, interests, and achievements to college admissions officers. Create a professional website or portfolio to showcase your work, engage with relevant online communities, and maintain a positive social media presence that reflects your passions and values.

How can participating in competitions help me stand out in my college application?

Participating in competitions shows your dedication to a specific subject, your willingness to challenge yourself, and your ability to perform at a high level. Success in these competitions can help you stand out as a top performer in your area of interest and provide additional accomplishments to highlight in your application.

How do specialized certifications or courses enhance my college application?

Specialized certifications or courses show your commitment to learning beyond the standard high school curriculum. They can also help you develop valuable skills, explore potential career paths, and demonstrate your passion for a specific subject. Including these credentials in your application can help you stand out as a motivated and knowledgeable candidate.