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11 College Application Tips to Make You Stand Out

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Applying to college has always been stressful. Even students with the most impeccable resumes have their stomachs tied up in knots while they wait to hear back from schools. College applications are a highly competitive process that can serve as a wake-up call to students who find themselves going head-to-head with like-minded and accomplished peers.

What can students do to make their applications pop? It turns out there’s a strategy students can follow to separate themselves from their peers in high school. Here are some college application tips to make your student stand out when they start applying to schools.

1. Take Challenging Courses

Taking challenging courses during high school is something that all high schoolers should seriously be considering, not just those with dreams of four-year colleges. It’s important that students challenge themselves and push their limits if they want to impress the admissions departments.

Most admissions officers would rather see someone make a slightly lower grade in a tough class like an Advanced Placement (AP) or honors course instead of an “A” in an easy class. Also, because challenging courses like AP classes are weighted differently, they can have a significant impact on grade point averages (GPAs) and class rankings. These are two numbers that can make a big difference when it’s time to apply to school.

2. Take College Classes During High School

Besides taking challenging courses like AP and honors classes, students should also consider taking actual college classes while they’re still in high school. There are lots of benefits to taking high school classes in college. In addition to making students look good, they can even save students money!

By taking college classes in high school through a local university or community college, high schoolers can get a leg up on the competition by fulfilling certain course requirements to shorten the total amount of time they spend in school. Fewer requirements mean fewer courses students (or their parents) have to pay for, which could save families money. Also, be sure to consider the Career and College Promise program. It’s another great way to show colleges that you can handle college-level coursework and save money on college classes!

3. Join a Variety of Clubs

Colleges love well-rounded students, so joining school clubs is an excellent way for students to show off their interests outside of the classroom and learn about different subjects.

Are foreign languages your student’s thing? Maybe French Club or Spanish Club would be fun. They’re a great complement to foreign language classes and give students a taste of different cultures. If your student is a natural orator or a future “Jeopardy!” contestant, they may want to sign up for the debate team or quiz bowl. They could even end up competing in a big competition.

4. Get Involved in the Community

teenagers wearing blue shirts and volunteering at a food pantrySchools also love to see community involvement. When it’s time to start putting together that resume during the college application season, one way to make a strong impression is by volunteering.  Why not help build a house with Habitat for Humanity or volunteer at the local food shelter?

Maybe the best part of community involvement is that it’s contagious. Studies show that community service during high school, even when it’s mandatory, heightens the likelihood of people volunteering later in life. With community service, students look great, their college application is more competitive, and hopefully, they feel great because they’re helping others. Everybody wins!

5. Give Sports a Shot

We know that sports and high school athletics aren’t necessarily everyone’s thing, and that’s just fine. Students shouldn’t feel worried about their college application because they didn’t play a sport. However, if your student chooses not to pursue a sport, they should seriously consider filling that time with another extracurricular activity.

Your student doesn’t have to be an all-star to have fun through high school sports. Whether they’re the star quarterback or a benchwarmer, students who participate in sports learn valuable lessons about teamwork and life — all things that colleges value.

6. Develop Relationships With Teachers (Then Ask for Recommendations)

It’s hard to understate the importance and value of a strong recommendation from a teacher. Few people know more about a student than the teachers who worked with them during high school. This is why it’s crucial that students take the time to develop positive relationships with teachers. The better teachers know your student, the more these teachers will have to write about them.

Be sure that your student does not wait too long before asking for their letter of recommendation. No one likes having something sprung on them at the last minute. Give teachers plenty of advance notice so they have the time to write the glowing and thoughtful letter of recommendation your student deserves.

7. Be Thoughtful When Writing College Essays

Another opportunity for students to stand out on their applications is with their college essays. College essays are a terrific chance for students to offer schools more insight into their thought processes and world views.

Parents and students will notice that there are several types of essays. One is usually a college personal statement that tells the admissions office about you, and the other is an essay on a pre-selected topic. Essays are an excellent way to stand out because it gives students an opportunity to essentially speak directly to the admissions officers of a college or university.

Have your student take their time and be sure they give their essays lots of thought. This is a wonderful opportunity for students to shine. Students should even consider writing some practice college essays to get the gears turning.

8. Scour Your Social Media

While previous generations never had to worry about it, it’s crucial for young college students to keep a close watch on their social media profiles. No one wants an ill-advised joke they made as a freshman to come back and haunt them when it comes to their college applications.

A good rule of thumb: if it isn’t something they would be comfortable with their parents or future boss seeing, they probably shouldn’t post it on their social media. Make sure your student checks their social media, double-checks it, and ensures they are putting their best foot forward.

9. Schedule a Campus Tour (Or Attend a Virtual Visit)

Campus tours are an often-overlooked part of the application process that may help students improve their chances. Colleges and universities like to see what admissions counselors call “demonstrated interest” in their institutions. There are few better ways for students to show their interest than scheduling an official tour and checking out the campus.

Because in-person tours aren’t available for many students right now, lots of colleges are transitioning to virtual tours. They’re a wonderful way for students to experience the look and feel of their favorite colleges from the comfort and safety of their own homes. Learn more about how your student can take virtual tours at any of the 16 UNC System campuses. All they need is a desktop, laptop, smartphone, or even a virtual reality headset!

10. Consider Early Decision and Early Action Applications

Another way many students try to stand out is by applying early to their top colleges. While some students and parents may think that applying early will improve their chances, there’s no proof that it will help students get a leg up on the competition. Of course, it won’t hurt a student’s chances, either.

If your student is set on attending a school, and they know that’s where they want to go, there’s no harm in applying early. One advantage of applying early is that your student will receive their decision faster than if they submitted a regular application. That can help them to plan ahead, regardless of what happens. While applying early, keep in mind the difference between early action and early decision. Early action is non-binding, whereas early decision is binding. When students apply for early decision, they have to commit to just one school. So before you apply that way, just be sure that college is where you want to go.

11. Use CFNC to Plan, Apply, and Pay for College

Our final tip is one that North Carolina students are hopefully already using. With CFNC, parents and students can find everything they need to plan, apply, and pay for school. Through the CFNC website, students can find help when they want to apply for college, apply for financial aid like scholarships, and access resources for filling out FAFSA applications, and even completing residency determination.

Don’t just let your student submit their application, cross their fingers, and hope for the best. When students follow our tips and sign up for a CFNC account, you can be sure that they are doing everything they can to make a great impression on their college applications.

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