How To Approach Your College Applications

More likely than not, the prospect of applying to college is a scary one and it seems like the additional point on your ACT score will make the difference between starting your own dental practice and celebrating your 40th birthday in your parents’ basement (because you live there, not because it’s a sick party pad). The number of things to consider is staggering and because of this, it’s important to break them up into their primary components.

What Admissions Officers Look For in an Applicant?

College admissions officers are looking at many things when considering your application and while it can be difficult to know exactly what they’re looking for, the primary information they take into account can be broken down into 6 main groups.

Grades

While this one may sound obvious at first, it is often overblown in importance. Obviously, you should strive to do as well as possible but admissions officers understand that a percentage doesn’t reflect who a person is and it is unlikely that a B in your first semester of AP chemistry will have a negative impact on your application. Instead, the fact that you took the initiative to sign up for classes that challenge you will likely speak louder than the grade you got.

Test Scores

There are so many acronyms taking over your life right now but two of the most important are the SAT and the ACT. Whether you’ve taken one or both of these before or not, you’re likely aware of how important they are and are starting to understand why people make such a big deal out of preparing for them.

Remember that you only need a score for one of them for most colleges although having both can’t hurt. These tests are not hard; the difficulty comes from the time frame you have to do them in. As long as you keep this in mind, you can focus on questions you know you can do quickly without feeling bad about skipping those you know will consume more of your time. Because of this, doing full practice tests is usually more beneficial than practice problems when preparing. Finally, remember that you can take these tests as many times as you want, so don’t hesitate to study back up if you’re not happy with your score (but don’t stress over a couple of points).

Essays

This is the portion of the application you’ve likely been thinking about most and it’s a big one. The essays are how admissions officers create a more complete picture of who you are. Without these, you’re just numbers on a page but a good essay can easily negate a less-than-perfect GPA. It’s a common misconception that for a college essay to be good, you need to write about a horribly traumatic experience from your childhood or about the hardships you’ve faced as a [insert adjective here] person living in [insert place here]. The reality is that the majority of people writing these essays have lived relatively harmless lives (which is a good thing!) and the readers know that. The worst thing you can do in an essay is lie about an experience to make it seem more compelling than it is if for no other reason than that the readers will be able to tell that you’re not writing from a genuine place.

There’s nothing wrong with writing a happy essay, or a funny one, or even one (and this is especially good) in which you detail a time that you were wrong or embarrassed yourself. The readers want to see that you can grow and are capable of doing more than attending class and you don’t need to dramatize the loss of a pet to accomplish that.

Extracurricular Activity

The great thing about extracurricular activities is they can be fun and look great on an application. Usually when you hear the phrase “well-rounded student”, this is the section people are thinking about. The important thing to remember here is that there’s no “right” thing that you should be doing. Instead, admissions officers want to see you pursuing your interests and having fun because these are the things that will be helpful in college. You shouldn’t feel like you need to play 3 sports and volunteer with a soup kitchen in the left over time if that’s not something you enjoy.

If you want to be a surgeon, seek out opportunities such as shadowing and internships that show that you truly want to do that and that you’re willing to work for it. If you want to work in production, you shouldn’t feel like doing the school play every year is somehow less valid than playing soccer because it’s preparing you for your future in different ways. Do what makes you happy in your free time because that will do a much better job of showing a college who you are than doing what you think you’re “supposed to” to look good.

Awards and Accolades

Awards can be anything from getting national merit to winning an essay-writing contest. If it’s important to you, it’ll be important for the people reading your application. There’s no reason to feel like you shouldn’t put something down just because it’s not nationally recognized. By definition, very few people get the big-name awards and readers know that, they aren’t expecting it from you. Put your best foot forward and talk about the accomplishments you’re proud of and that you think reflect your interests because, in the end, that’s what matters.

Soft Skills

These are what every other part of the application process is trying to quantify. Soft skills are the qualities that are difficult to get across on paper but that make all the difference when it comes to success in teams and eventually the workforce. They’re a combination of your academics, your interests, and your abilities, containing the things that are difficult to describe such as leadership, adaptability, and problem-solving. Colleges are looking for applicants that personify these qualities but it’s difficult to express your strengths in these areas through the other 5 sections listed above.

This is the section that Spect wants to help you out with. Through your Spect account, you can put a score on these soft skills that’s backed up by what you actually do. These skills are developed differently by everyone but they all come from experiences and activities based on what interests you in the first place. By showing a college actual scores associated with the soft skills you’ve built up, you remove the risk of allowing them to come to their own conclusions based on the rest of your application. You can show exactly how well you function on a team based on activities where you had to do just that instead of just saying that’s something you’re good at.