One Student’s Opinion*
An approach generally unused but very practical for students aiming at particular universities, is to actually look at the applications that need to be completed and what categories and criteria are required and to what depth.
Very often people get involved in all sorts of high school activities intended primarily to boost the resume. This action all though well intentioned and with potential life benefits, may or may not help at all. More specifically, some schools want to know your top 6 activities and less than 50 words on your role; some schools, want exclusively your activities, your position and your awards and no other details; some schools give you room to elaborate as much as little as you wish. Point being, no matter what variation, the individual university applications rarely change and often you as a future candidate can adjust your direction or goals to have a story to tell and throw yourself into something that may be very time consuming and contribute nothing to the application.
Reading the applications in advance has other benefits as well. Some applications have essays that want to hear about you specifically. It may want to know about a leadership role or something that you have created, or they may ask a crazy hypothetical question that demands you to draw nothing from past experience. So applicants who wish to not do much more than they need to, you need no more and no less than what is required. Someone may have 10 examples of leadership and be much more impressive about those roles in person, but when an application asks for one example in less than 100 words, as long as you have good story, you look the same or potentially even better.
Different applications demand different depths and may ask for more or less things, so it is fooling try and fit oneself to exclusively one application and not have examples for different scenarios. That said, many students realize when filling out the applications, just how many things they did that could not be expressed to the college. As a general rule, a student striving for the top universities should have a two or three things that they were heavily involved in and then a few others that they were in. Also, it is important to write down a list over time of ones accomplishments because often in the middle of senior year, it is difficult to recall all things done two years ago.
Read the applications in advance so you can have a plan as to how and paint a picture of you to these readers. Nobody sees you in person, all they can do is read what you wrote. It is flawed system in many ways, but if you understand that coming in and are able to use it to your advantage than you have a leg up on everyone else.
* Author was accepted to several “most selective” colleges and universities.
Lynn Radlauer Lubell, Publisher of InLikeMe.com and Founder of Admission By Design, an Educational Consultancy based in Boca Raton, Florida.