How to Stand Out in the College Admissions Crowd

The college admissions process has become increasingly selective over the last 15 years. The introduction of digital college applications led to skyrocketing application numbers. And the pandemic accelerated the test optional movement, which caused applicant numbers to climb even higher. 

Understandably, college-bound students and their families feel the pressures of the competitive college admissions landscape. How can students stand out in a sea of so many smart, driven, accomplished applicants? 

The answer to this question is, of course, nuanced. But in Signet’s years of experience helping students secure admission to the nation’s top colleges and universities, we’ve identified the #1 secret to getting into college: identifying a true interest—and pursuing it! 

Developing a Personal Vision Helps the College Admissions Process

At Signet, we encourage students to chase meaningful and rewarding experiences, with the idea that their college applications become the documentation of those experiences. Rather than pursuing opportunities and extracurriculars to “look good” to colleges, this approach empowers students to focus their energy on activities that genuinely matter to them. 

During our academic coaching sessions, we work with a student to help them develop and clarify a personal vision for the future, which becomes their North Star as they explore their needs and wants, develop a career plan, and build their college list. Once they have their list, a student can start thinking about opportunities that align with their personal vision and make them a good fit for their target schools. 

Having a personal vision to guide them allows students to develop a unique narrative—one that only they will have. This process helps to set them apart from the competition when they begin applying to colleges. 

Summer Activities Can Be Great Differentiators on College Apps

One of the best ways students can differentiate themselves and shape their narratives is with summer activities—and now is a great time to begin planning for summer! Keep in mind that the summer activities a student selects are less about what your student is doing and more about how the activities fit in with their personal vision. As we like to tell students, “Do something unique or do something that fits your unique narrative.” 

In a recent webinar, our tutor Molly E. shared some of the unique paths that the students she works with have taken in choosing their summer activities. 

One student wants to be a doctor, but opportunities to volunteer in hospitals have been virtually nonexistent. Still, she knew she needed more experience in the healthcare field before applying to colleges. As an avid rock climber and hiker, she was already planning to go on several excursions over the summer. So she went through wilderness first aid training in preparation for the expeditions. Sometimes students need to get creative to find those connections to their personal visions! 

Another student wants to conduct research on whales out in the ocean. There was one particular vessel off the West Coast that she wanted to work on, but she knew they only accepted undergraduate and graduate students. She thought, “Why not reach out anyway?” She submitted her resume and a cover letter explaining that she had taken classes in high school to prepare for this opportunity. Incredibly, she became the first high school student ever hired to work on the vessel! How’s that for a differentiating experience? 

In the same webinar, we also heard from Janos Perczel, CEO and Founder of Polygence, a company that connects students with expert mentors to develop the research project of their dreams. 

Students have so many opportunities to pursue over the summer that can shape their narratives and differentiate them during the college admissions process. If your student needs a gentle nudge, have them start by considering this simple question: “If I could do whatever I wanted to do over the summer, what would that look like?” 

Check out Signet’s Guide to Summer Planning for more information on setting up a productive summer that aligns with your student’s visions and goals.

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