The Successful Applicant to Highly Selective Colleges

Putting together your college application means doing more than just going through the motions. To learn more about what makes you stand out to an admissions committee, check out this post from Accepted.

I work with really smart high school students every year.  These students have excellent grades in challenging curriculums, strong test scores and demonstrated commitment to their extracurricular endeavors.  These students end up with college choices that many other students can only dream about.  However, when fewer than 10% of applicants are admitted to some of the most selective colleges, often these great students have applications that don’t end up in the admit pile.

A few years ago, I worked with a student who was admitted to almost every university to which she applied.  Other students who I worked with that year had similar credentials and also earned admission to some the nation’s top colleges, but none of them had the choices that the first student had.  After supporting her through the application process, I wanted nothing more than to call each admission committee and tell them that she was “the one.”

What made her stand out?  It wasn’t a number or a line on her resume, it was her intrinsic interest in learning and making connections that came through as she worked on each application.  She wanted to think about what inspired her and how her background and interests would impact her future college community.  Many straight-A students want to write the perfect essay on the first try, revise it once and move on.  This student thought, regularly, about the messages she was conveying in her writing and wasn’t afraid to take a risk, show her personality, or make a fresh start when one idea wasn’t turning out the way she planned. Frankly, despite the numerous other commitments she had, she WANTED to put herself into the college application process.

I spent my time on an admissions committee.  The debates were sometimes heated, and I will admit to feeling truly excited about some of the “admits” and saddened by some of files marked with a WL (waitlist).  In my mind, the students who can convey the depth of their curiosity or the breadth of their perspectives, in addition to presenting strong academic credentials, are the ones who become most compelling to an admission committee.

By Whitney Bruce, editor and author of numerous college articles, and special reports.

This article was originally published on the Accepted Admissions Blog. 


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  • Linda Abraham

    Linda Abraham is the founder and CEO of Accepted, the top-tier admissions consultancy that helps you unlock your competitive advantage. Linda has written or co-authored 13 ebooks on the college admissions process. In 2007, she co-founded the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) and became its first president. For the last 20 years Linda and her highly credentialed, experienced team have helped thousands of applicants get accepted to top colleges and graduate schools worldwide, including but not limited to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, and MIT. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, US News, The Sunday Times of London, Businessweek, Poets & Quants and MBA Podcaster.

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