7 ‘Must-Haves’ for a Successful College Application

The bottomline is that the best undergraduate courses in the best colleges across India and the world have less than 25% acceptances rates, on an average. That is, less than 1 student gets accepted out of any 4 applicants.

So, if you are an ambitious high schooler hoping to apply to college within the next three years, here are some ways you can distinguish your application to give yourself the best shot at your dream college.

While each college is unique and might be looking for something particular (Carnegie Mellon is looking for quirky and passionate people, Stanford is looking for international excellence, Cambridge is looking for research and academic excellence, Ashoka is looking for independent thinkers), generally all colleges want driven, passionate and smart students that would add value to their classroom.

Here are 7 key elements that can highlight your credentials

 Elements that highlight your credentials in a college application, strong academic record

Strong academic record

Nothing compensates for grades, and this is the underlining element of any great application. So, if you were hoping for a formula to over-ride marks, its time to open your eyes to the reality of grade levels. While most universities don’t announce cutoffs (Including Delhi University that made the friendly cutoff infamous), there are unwritten norms for high school grades that prove your ability to handle the course load at a leading university. Average grade levels are often published unofficially for almost any university.

And you are a smart test-takerswho can crack the grades, you have won half the battle. The rest of the battle lies in the next six points.

Demonstration of a strong curriculum

Demonstration of a rigorous curriculum

Demonstration of a rigorous curriculum is really about the ability to take on a difficult course load (if you can handle it). Universities respect a student that pushes themselves outside their comfort zone to take on challenging courses. Students who get good scores in Advanced Placement (AP) exams also signal a very strong study ethic. We highly recommend that you take on higher level courses in the subjects you are planning to pursue at college

Strong test scores like SAT and ACT

Strong test scores

Although most US colleges are test-optional now, a great SAT/ACT score adds a lot of value to students applying to competitive colleges and competitive courses. Many Indian colleges also now accept the scores in lieu of their own admission test.

IELTS is mandatory for most students applying anywhere abroad.

Some UK universities like Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and Imperial in the UK require testing include Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA), Mathematics Admissions Test MAT), Physics Admissions Test (PAT), Law National Admissions Test (LNAT).

Indian universities have their own admissions test. Besides the obvious JEE, NEET and CLAT in India, the private Indian colleges like Ashoka has its own AAT test, OP Jindal has JSAT, Flame has FEAT and the list goes on.

A very effective personal statement and or essays makes your application stand out

A specific, authentic, and well-written personal statement and/or essays

Essays are where you showcase your personality – as well as the depth of your knowledge about the subject you are applying for. Personal essays are a place to connect with the human side of the admissions team – and engage them in a conversation. Your essay should reflect your unique voice- your story, your life, your values, your perspectives, and your personal growth.

Statements of purpose allow you to showcase how well you understand Economics or Computer Science or International Relations or any other subject; what aspects of the subject you enjoy; what research and reading have you done outside the syllabus; and what projects or internships have helped you understand its practical applications.

unique extrcurricular  interest or passion

A unique extracurricular interest or passion

Extracurricular activities add to your credentials only when they are consistent over at least 2 years and hopefully, more! Colleges like to see students develop in a continued area of interest over your high school years. Contests and awards add to your credentials with top colleges expecting national and international levels of participation. Performance videos are of value and several students make their own website or YouTube channels to showcase their work.

Quality and depth is of more value here rather than quantity and variety. There is more value in pursuing two things but deep diving into those, rather than doing many things superficially. It’s also advisable to build your profile in the area you plan to study in college. For example, if you want to pursue psychology later, it helps to have pursued internships/ research work and joined clubs related to psychology, mental health or human resources.

A community service project with meaningful impact makes your application stand out

Community Service with measurable impact

Community service seems to be one of the checklist items that all students want to cross off the list at some point in their high school journey. However, what really makes a difference to your college application is if you have made a noticeable, concrete, and positive change to the community/ organization you were trying to help. Numbers help in showcasing this impact – the amount of funding raised, numbers of workshops conducted, number of medical kits distributed, or number of users touched by an app.

A strong letter of recommendation enhances your college application

Stellar letters of recommendation

The purpose of letters of recommendation is for colleges to hear directly from people who know students well, in order to gain a better understanding of the person behind the application. Make sure to choose someone whose class you are performing well in. Try to also choose someone who is a little familiar with you and can emphasize your strengths.

One good tip is to share a summary sheet with the teacher who you are getting your letter of recommendation from. It’s hard for teachers to remember what each student did over the year, therefore you can share a list of your accomplishments in that subject and relevant information with your teacher. It makes their life a bit easier and it helps them write specifics in your LOR.

The writer is Founder and CEO, Inomi Learning, a Gurugram-based career and college guidance firm. info@inomi.in

The original article was first published in ‘The Hindu’ on April 16th, 2023.

With inputs from Kritika Malhotra.

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