Don’t Do Unique Things to Your Application, Do Unique Things with Your Application Strategy

College Application Focus: 9 Guidelines for an Authentic and Memorable Impression

Your application stands out through four structural and five attitudinal considerations. Structural are resumes, essays, recommendations, and interviews when required. Attidudinal are these 5 personality attributes; leadership, ability to influence, initiative with desire, interpersonal skills, and curiosity with diversity of thought.

What “Attention Triggers” Separate One Applicant from Another?

There are the two triggers; one, applications are sorted (“structural”) by a systematic approach. Second, once sorted your application’s hard factors (grades, class rank, etc.) within your assigned “competition pool.”

This is why we emphasize guidelines with the structural and attitudinal approach in making your application stand out.

Before going further into the guidelines, let’s look at the academic and non-academic factors college rank according to their enrollment management objectives.

Systematic Sorting of Applications

Many schools use a scoring system in their enrollment management process that sorts applications into groups.  For example, Ursinus College located in Collegeville, PA assigns numbers student ranking in a descending order 1-2-3. A score greater than 1300 on the SAT Math and SAT Verbal with a class rank in the top 10% earns a “1”.

Each school publishes a grid that ranks academic and non-academic factors according to how the college ranks each factor in the admission process.

Proper college planning considers this when you develop your college selection list.

Factors are assigned one of the four rankings (see below) regarding how the school values each factor.

19 admission factors academic and non academic Arizona State University

Always Check Each Schools Admission Factors, Arizona State University Places Little Value on Non-Academic Factors.

Admission Decision Factors Academic and Non-Academic

In our coaching program we identify student positioning factors then determine each school’s ranking of the factors in the admission process.

These factors are broken down into academic and non-academic issues as appropriate by each school.

Here are the factors that many times fall into the “very important” category.

It is important to know how each school ranks the various factors especially if you are weaker in a particular area, like test scores see number one below.

Academic Admission Factors

Standardized Test Scores

Many schools place a high priority on SAT and/or ACT scores. However, for students who do not score well on  standardized tests, there are over 800 schools that are test optional or “test flexible”.

There is a trending movement for many schools to attract more students to reduce the application process requirement of standardized  tests. Important, check with each school for possible policy guidelines (see PDF list to  the left).

Class Ranking, High School Grades, Course Rigor

Of the three some schools might not value class rank as much as High School Grades, and Course Rigor. Admissions Officers are trying to predict who will be successful academically in college as well as a contributor to their student community.  Some admissions personnel feel these three are better predictors than standardized test scores for success in college.

The more selective the school the more important course rigor becomes as well as GPA, in addition most  of the time standardized  test scores.

College Essay

Make sure your essay is original compared to what else is in the application, do not duplicate. Most importantly; proofread, comply with standard rules of written English, and provide examples with the assertions that you present. A well prepared essay can be a tipping point for students who may not be as strong in some other academic areas as other students. Ask the question, what separates your experience/s apart from other applicants? Why do your experiences make you an attractive addition to the school’s student community?


Many students overlook the importance of these, especially if they show up on the school’s academic very important or important list.

Non-Academic Admission Factors

Demonstrated Interest (“Level of Applicant’s Interest”)

Schools value their enrollment yield meaning how many students matriculated who were accepted (“percentage”). Demonstrated interest is becoming more important than in the past. In addition this is why there is a correct way to list schools on the FAFSA Financial Aid Form.

Personal Features

Schools seek a student body with diversity. This can be culture, ethnicity, geographic location, or another distinguishing factor that might move you to the top of admission consideration.

Special Ability / Talent

This provides an edge in the admission process especially when others provide recognition such as awards.

Extracurricular Activity

We discussed this earlier, “impact with quality over quantity”; pursue depth rather than breadth.

The first step for your application to stand out is to both understand and perform very well on the most important factors. Most  of the time there are several factors that are most important but these by school.

In the above example, class rigor is not “very important” which is atypical for many schools. In addition, the ranking of non-academic factors only “considers” state residency.

What Personal Traits do Colleges Look For?

5 Personal Characteristics That Will Make You Stand Out?

Let’s say  “Group 1” (Ursinus example  above) is the highest qualified group based upon the initial scoring  process; many applicants are going to be similar with these hard ranking factors such as grade point average, test scores, class rank, etc.

Speaking to the student, how can you differentiate yourself from other applicants.

When you get to the application process, much of your academic body of work is in the rear view mirror (some notable exceptions wait listed, etc.) so focus on what can make you stand out from other applicants, grab the admissions officer’s attention with your uniqueness (continue to work hard in the classroom).

Don’t think like everyone else, explain your true strengths effectively by reaching for “extreme  experiences” that clearly demonstrate one or a combination of these five personal attributes listed below.  It might be helpful to consider “instant” experiences or “shocking realizations”, like when you are in a dark room and unexpectedly a bright light comes on.

As you exhibit these 5 personal characteristics (one or in combination) remember these two operative words,  demonstrative engagement;

  • Leadership
  • Ability to be an Influencer
  • Initiative with Desire
  • Interperonal Skilla
  • Curiosity with Diversity of Thought

These five personal characteristics (“attributes”) form the central core approach to the personalized parts of the application and essay preparation.

Brainstorm with each characteristic as the focal point; expand your thoughts from there.

As ideas materialize anticipate how an admissions officer would react. Ask yourself, what is the school looking for in their students?

By asking such questions during college visits and closely reviewing the school’s published material you can discover what approach would be most beneficial.

These five personal attributes above are used either on an individual basis or in combination in your narrative on application questions and in your essay.

Two other good questions for the student to ask, what do you bring to the college? Secondly, why should the school make  an investment in you?

Don’t Get Trapped with Outdated Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom in the past was to list as many community and extracurricular activities as possible. This is no longer true.

Admission officers are now looking for examples where you were a contributor. How did you make a difference. How did you influence the process and outcome? Why did you make a difference? What did you learn or take away from your experience? How do the conclusions relate to personal career aspirations?

Remember These Guiding Points in Your Application Process

Brainstorm Over Time Especially for the College Essay

As you develop your thoughts use emotional questions when you brainstorm for ideas.

  • What are your hopes?
  • What are your opinions?
  • What are your experiences?
  • What are your fears as you face the college challenge?

6 Guiding Principles for College Application Success

  • Beat Deadlines (Very Important for your sanity)
  • Be consistent, authentic, and memorable with your approach
  • Don’t make excuses
  • Be confident without bragging
  • Write in active voice, check punctuation and action verbs for accurate intent
  • Be honest

We can help, check out our starter coaching program.