Folders with the label Applications and Grants

How Do I Stand Out Now?

Now what?  You’ve been told throughout your high school career that there is a formula to getting into your list of selective schools.  You have taken AP classes, focused on extra-curricular activities that show your leadership skills, spent countless hours on Khan Academy prepping for your SAT test, and volunteering for organizations to show your commitment to your community.  Then, a global pandemic changed everything.  Your junior year GPA was impacted by the move to online instruction and your SAT test date was canceled.  Your summer programs and internships disappeared.  Your trip to visit campuses and meet with admissions counselors was scrapped.  So, how will colleges assess your application now that the foundational blocks of admissions have come tumbling down?

Colleges are asking that same question.  A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that colleges will have to re-assess to how attract and enroll applicants.  They will be forced to rely less upon cognitive methods for evaluating students and more upon intangible qualities like curiosity or grit.  But, how do you show that?

Here are a few suggestions to stand out in these uncertain times in college admissions:

  • Give considerable thought to who you ask to write your letters of recommendation. In the past, it may have been fine to use your AP Chemistry teacher.  He knows you put in the time and effort to get an A- and that you memorized the periodic table.  But, does he know that the subject doesn’t come easy for you and that tenacity and hard work ultimately led to your success?  Can he describe who you are and not just how you did in the class? 

  • Find a way to create your own experiences. If your summer plans fell through, can you find a way to mimic those virtually?  Since your family trip to France was canceled, you may not get the French immersion experience you were looking for, but you can find other sources of enrichment.  Check out the on-line classes, film reviews and book clubs through Alliance Française in Denver.  Sign up for a MasterClass on everything from how to write a novel to how to make ravioli.  Use your time to learn something new!

  • Go through the frustration to get a standardized test score. Although many schools have announced test-optional policies, supplying a quality test score still helps you.  And, it shows incredible persistence under trying conditions. 

  • Use the new optional essay in the Common Application. This prompt (which is in addition to your personal statement) gives you the opportunity to write about how the pandemic has affected you.  Not only can you explain the impact on your grades or standardized test plan, but this is a perfect place to highlight how you made the best of an unprecedented time in history.  How did you adapt and thrive?

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