It’s 8AM on a Saturday morning, and my phone has just started blaring an alarm blasting me out of my slumber. I had just finished a long week of taking exams, putting final touches on projects, and playing in a grueling tennis tournament. However, instead of being cozily tucked away in my bed catching up on all the sleep that had been lost in the previous week, I am fumbling in a dark room trying to turn off my incessant alarm.

I finish my morning routine, grab my viola case, and quickly get into my car. Today, my string quartet has a gig where we are essentially serving as the “pit orchestra” for a local theater production. Countless hours of rehearsals and practice has led to this weekend’s performance. But why do all of this?

Getting into the college of your dreams is so much more than just acing every exam. While excellent academic performance and test scores are certainly a large part of the college admission process, the top colleges are looking for students beyond that traditional mold. As Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust noted in a speech to the Aspen Institute, “we could fill our class twice over with valedictorians.” He went out to note that the best advice he could give to students seeking admission at Harvard is to be an interesting applicant.

Well, that’s easier said than done! To be an interesting college applicant is complicated for a couple of reasons: first, interesting is subjective, what one person finds interesting may not appeal to another (for example, my fascination with subway systems will probably bore you to sleep). Second, in the ever-increasing competition for the top tier colleges, standing out is becoming increasingly difficult.

In light of the above, what can you do to stand out to college admission officers at the most prestigious colleges for higher education?

1) Don’t shy away from extracurriculars. There’s no way for you to standout if you just look like every other student. Your extracurriculars help you tell a unique story that separates you from everyone else.

2) Follow your passions when choosing extracurriculars. You are more committed to things that you are passionate about, and it will be easier to communicate that passion to others in the future (either in a college essay or an interview).

3) Quality is far more important than quantity. Selectively choose the extracurriculars in light of your course load and existing extracurriculars. It is much better to do a few activities with excellence than to do a wide swath mediocrely.

4) Take advantage of summer opportunities. While you should obviously relax during summer break, also use those three months to explore different opportunities, take a summer job, prepare for standardized tests, do an internship, or hone your skills through sports camps or something similar.

5) Don’t forgo your academics! While extracurriculars will help you stand out, it cannot completely compensate for a poor GPA or standardized test scores!

Using the above tips will help you stand out to college admission officers separating you from the thousands of other applicants. Best of luck in the college admission process!

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