College Admissions - How to Get Their Attention

Many students ask me what can give them a leg up when applying to college. The main things students focus on in high school are their GPA and ACT score. These are important, but students are often shocked to realize that colleges consider other things are well.

They like to see what classes you have taken. They know you have to take certain classes in order to graduate, but what did you do with those electives? Did you take classes that might relate to what you want to study? Did you challenge yourself with hard classes your senior year? Did you take any dual enrollment? They want to see that you can handle school in addition to other activities. That is partly why they want to know what clubs or organizations you were in and if you did community service. If you had to work a job while in high school that also shows you can handle more than just school work. They are interested in why you want to go to college and what you plan to do with your degree. When someone is intrinsically motivated to do something they often finish it and do a better job with it. Intrinsic motivation means internal or personal motivation.

These are the reasons that they ask some questions on the application that you didn’t expect to see. Often schools ask for a personal statement- they don’t usually call it that. Instead they may ask why you want to attend their school, who was the biggest influence in your life, what your biggest struggle in life was, or something similar. Having a personal statement and academic resume make it much easier to apply to school and also many scholarships that ask for the same information. These two places are where you can really sell yourself, and can be the key to making you stand out.

A personal statement is really just you telling a story about yourself, your life, goals and ambitions. You are the hero or heroine of your own novel or movies (whichever you prefer). Thankfully, you don’t have to write an entire novel or movie script- a few well done paragraphs will do the trick. Think about books or movies that you really enjoy. They often start with something to grab your attention- otherwise you wouldn’t continue reading or watching it. The start of your personal statement should be the same. The best works of literature and cinema evoke a strong feeling and keep you riveted to your seat. The same should be true about your personal statement. College admission officers know what your transcript and test scores say, but they want to know who you are, what you have overcome to get to college, what might have influenced you to pursue a particular field of study or what your future dreams are. They want to see that you have the determination and desire to not only go to college, but get your degree and live the future you are planning for. So, be yourself and write about those things. Don’t make up a story that you think they would like to hear or write a stiff and formal piece that doesn’t showcase you.

The academic resume helps you keep everything organized: characteristics about yourself, education, experience (job, volunteer etc.), high schools studies that go along with what you want to study, honors and/or awards you have received and any clubs or organizations you have joined. Then when you get to a college or scholarship application it is right there all nice and neat. Completing those goes much faster. Make sure that you are showing all the hard work you have put into the last few years. Don’t forget to list Upward Bound as many colleges see that as a positive. They know that the UB program is an intense college prep program and has required you to work harder than many peers who are not it in. They also know that you have gained additional skills and preparation to help you be successful in college.

I know it can be scary and extremely difficult to write about yourself to someone you don’t even know. I remember when I was applying to colleges my senior year, I gained admittance to many colleges I thought were out of my league. I don’t think I would have gotten into many of them if I hadn’t written many personal statements about how important going to college was for me and my family. I talked about how I would be the first to go to college and how much that would impact myself and my family. I ended up not going to them because I ended up with a pretty sweet deal money wise at LMU, but it was nice to know I could have if I had wanted to. This just goes to show that if you write from your heart and show how motivated you are, you can make an admission officer or scholarship committee want you. So, go out and write from your heart, and get one step closer to your dreams.


Upward Bound is funded by the U.S. Department of Education & sponsored by Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority Inc.