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Strategic Positioning: Your College Admissions Hook

All competitive colleges strive to build a diversified and interesting student body.

In past years, most successful applicants were well-rounded high-achievers. These days, there is a growing preference, especially at the most selective schools, to admit high achievers who are also “angular” or “focused” candidates. These students possess a special activity or unusual characteristic that sets them apart from other applicants.

Call it the — “wow factor”, “dazzle”, or the college admissions “hook”.

With growing competition, how will you stand out from the pack and be offered admission?

The first order of business is to do a little research to figure out what your choice colleges might find attractive (e.g. female interested in engineering, male interested in nursing, community activist, entrepreneur, screen writer). Perhaps your choice university recently introduced a new major or multi-discipline program and is looking to increase enrollment in that area.

Match what the school might find attractive with your interests, talents and experiences. Put on your thinking cap and brainstorm with others. You’ll come up with something special or unusual that you can offer.

Your “wow factor” doesn’t need to be truly unconventional – for example, combining a talent or interest with either community service or a business and pursuing it with passion may achieve the desired result.

Use your creativity! Are you a wizard at card tricks? If so, maybe you can set up a weekly class or program to teach underprivileged or sick children. Do you play an unusual instrument or sport? Are you a talented vocalist? Maybe you can entertain senior citizens. Are you an internet guru? If so, maybe you can start a web business or build sites for community service groups. Are you an exceptional writer? If so, are you interested in writing a screen play or a book? Or maybe use your writing skills in a community service environment and write grant proposals for charities. Maybe you’ve started a community service project. Have you been employed and promoted to management level at a store or restaurant? If you love art, are you a docent at the local museum? Do you volunteer to teach art at a school or summer camp? Interested in bio-engineering? Are you taking classes and doing research at a local university or enrolled in a summer study program?

Whatever you decide, make sure your interest is genuine and your commitment is deep and real. College admissions officers are not clairvoyant, but they have done this long enough to tell the difference. Evidence of passion, leadership, initiative, commitment and making a real difference is critical. Try to make it a theme that runs through your high school activities, recommendations and application essays.

Once you have established your “wow” factor, you’ll need a plan to reinforce it and promote it. Make sure it resonates. The admissions people should hear about it in “surround sound” in your application, in essays, activities, the interview and recommendations.

The College Hook: Packaging Yourself to Win the College Admissions Game, by Pam Proctor, can help you develop and promote your own “College Admissions Hook”.

Lynn Radlauer Lubell, Publisher of and Founder of Admission By Design, an Educational Consultancy based in Boca Raton, Florida.

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