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Make Your Teens More Competitive in College Admissions

July 12, 2017
Kaplan Test Prep

Learn how to make your teen stand out in college admissions.

Standing out in college admissions requires the right amount of risk.

College admissions committees are swamped with qualified applicants. Many students apply with the same test scores and GPAs (there are only so many combinations of numbers!). So how do you help your teen stand out?

Learning how to present a college application package will make your child more competitive to admissions officers, as well as help them find the best fit.

Wow college admissions officers with a stellar essay

Your teen’s essay (and any supplemental or optional essay) is a great way to set them apart from the pack. Don’t focus on following a set structure of what you think admissions committees want. Instead, encourage them to show a clear and vibrant picture of who they are—the feeling of crisp autumn air that inspired their choice to pursue an ecology major or the sound of the buzzer at a swim meet where they learned the value of hard work. Use vivid detail to paint the masterpiece of their journey thus far and how they envision their future.  

Encourage your teen to be true to themselves

Colleges want a wide variety of students to create a rich a diverse campus. Again, tell them to avoid finding a “formula” for acceptance, and instead capitalize on what they bring to the table. For example, imagine a pre-med college applicant who lacks clinical experience but is a seasoned competitive dancer. She can use her passion for dance to show leadership, special talents and abilities, and willingness to take risks—all valuable things to an admissions committee and a career in medicine. Focus less on fitting a “pre-college” formula and learn how to demonstrate skills that will allow your teen to break the mold.  

Help your teen be a leader, not a follower

With your teen’s extracurriculars, focus on quality, not quantity. It’s better to be highly involved in two organizations than loosely affiliated with a dozen. Start by encouraging them to volunteer and work their way up in the organization, run for leadership roles in clubs, or add management responsibilities to their summer job. Your teen can really stand out among college admissions officers by showing entrepreneurial projects or other ventures they created.

Chose letters of recommendation wisely

Just because a teacher gave your teen an A doesn’t mean they should ask them for a letter of recommendation. In fact, it would be more effective to choose a letter writer who saw them struggle at first but really show determination in fighting for that B. Life lessons and character building experiences work on an entirely different grading system. Encourage your teen to choose teachers they feel are personally invested in their long-term success.

Be unique, but not over the top

The key is for your teen to be unique in in the content of their college application, not the construct. For example, now is not the time to use wild formatting, write essays in codes, or mail strange objects to admissions committees (unless, of course, they’re applying to an arts school). College admissions committees must scan, process, and handle applications in a standardized manner, and interrupting that process could make them stand out in a negative way. Overall, your teen’s application should demonstrate to college admissions officers their personal and professional aptitude—both necessary components of success in any major.

For an inside look on your teen’s college application, from submission to acceptance, join our Inside the College Admissions panel event for parents, July 19th at 8pm ET.



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