How to Make Your College Application Shine
Submitting a college/university application is very much like applying for your first major job. Your grades and SAT/ACT scores are usually the base for getting you noticed, but to really stand out, there are a few things you can do to rise above the rest. Here are some tips from professionals in the field who review entrance applications.
Juan Alexander, Ed.D.
Executive Director of Admissions, Norfolk State University
"We primarily focus on the students’ GPA and test scores. We don’t require an essay, and we don’t require any letters of recommendation, unless a student is really borderline and somebody is trying to plead a case for them. The other thing is, we are test-optional. If a student has at least a 3.0 GPA and above, we do not require test scores. But if they are applying for scholarships, we do require them.
“From a global, holistic perspective—not speaking for other universities but from being in the business—different universities require different things. Some universities require or may look at extracurricular activities or any type of leadership programs that students may have been involved in, AP scores they have, honors classes that they have taken, things of that nature. Then you have some schools where students, let’s say engineering for example, may have an admissions process where the student has been admitted to a university, but they also have to become admitted into the program of their choice. There are other factors those administrators look at. In other words, make sure you know what the school is looking for before you send your application."
Ellen Neufeldt, Ed.D.
Vice President of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services, Old Dominion University
"When thinking about prospective students, the university is building a class of students that are going to be every part of the university. Sometimes students have special talents in the fine arts. So, they’re not only going to come in and apply to the university, but they may be looking to be in the band or sing in the chorale or have a special talent in the visual arts. In that sense, if there is a special area of focus like that, the applicant wants to put out not only how they are performing academically but show that special talent. You have a comprehensive university that’s going to have many different majors and students with many different talents to fill those majors. The other thing is, normally a college or university wants somebody who is well-rounded and motivated to learn. You’ll be adding to the learning community.
“Obviously how you perform in high school, as well as the coursework in certain rigorous courses, shows that you’re motivated, that you’re learning and that you are prepared for college-level classes.
“As for the essay, you really need to be genuine about your experiences, how they have helped you on your path to learning and where you want to go. But you also want to take it seriously and make sure it’s correct in grammar and sentence structure. It’s about you and your authentic voice. It also helps show your critical thinking about how you would go about solving a problem or what you might feel is important to the world in the future."
Dr. Alicia Uzzle
Academic and Student Affairs Manager, The Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding
"Communications skills—both written and verbal—are important because we are in the business of producing shipbuilders and leaders in the shipbuilding industry."
Michael A. Post
Vice President for Enrollment Management, Bridgewater College
"I’m looking for three things mainly. One is general interest in our institution. There are a lot of students out there applying to colleges, and I think it's important to have an interest in our college, know where it is, know enough about us to know we might be a good fit for them. I’m really looking for an interest in us and what we’re about.
“Two, I’m looking for consistency over the time of their high school career, and I would say that’s involvement and academic progress. I’m looking for students who have consistently applied themselves, not just at the tail end of their junior year, right before application season is coming in the fall of their senior year. Even if there hasn’t been consistency in academics, I like to see a growth path of their hard work. Some students get to high school, and it’s an adjustment from middle school. So maybe their freshman year wasn’t as great as they wanted it to be, but they spent some time with their counselor or their teachers and you notice a gradual improvement of their development through the three or four years.
“Third, the desirability for bettering themselves. Being on a college campus or taking college classes is about wanting to better yourself, wanting to be the best version of yourself. We’re looking for students who want to be a part of something greater than themselves and continue to grow. We want to see that willingness through their application.
"Two additional points: First, utilize the college counseling personnel or office staff in high school. They are a wealth of information for college preparation and applying. I can’t emphasize that enough. Second, if there are essays involved, my advice is that writing a college essay is a process. It’s not a moment. It should have several revisions to it and be something authentic and from the heart. It’s not a 'let me get this done and over with' type of thing."