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A Guide to Creating a Successful Application

July 11, 2024
A post by Nadine Saint, Associate Director of Admission

During the conversation of college admission, often the question arises, “What can I do to stand out?”. Typically, the underlying assumption is, “What can I do to standout…in a good way”. While there are many aspects of an application that are desirable, compelling, and interesting to read, there are equally as many blunders students can make when crafting their application.

Admittedly, when asked about the “best” in an application, my mind usually recalls the worst. We read a lot of good, great, and neutral, but what stands out is usually a bummer, a disappointment, or a missed opportunity.

Let’s start with what may seem obvious, getting the name of the college or university correct. It is no secret you are applying to other schools. We get it. However, it is best to make sure you are proofreading your essays (and your emails) to ensure you are name-dropping the right place. My recommendation, avoid it in the main part of the application. The return on investment in dropping the college or university into your application essay is not worth needing to edit the essay every time you submit your application to a different school. Save it for the supplemental area of the application, when you may be addressing a school-specific essay or short answer prompts. Here you can showcase your knowledge of a college in a productive way, and this challenges you to dig deeper as to why you are interested in attending. If your essay is general enough that you can copy and paste a multitude of colleges throughout your response, then it probably isn’t a strong essay.

Example: “I have been thoroughly impressed by Richmond University’s outstanding academic reputation, diverse community, and commitment to excellence in education.”

While a college name-drop misstep won’t be the one thing that influences your admission decision, it is a bummer to read. Take the extra minute to remember who you are speaking about and who you are speaking to, and avoid this pitfall.

Attention to detail and concerted effort elevate your application. Think strategically about using each section of the application to build your narrative. The activities section, additional information section, personal essay, and supplement are all areas you have direct control over at this moment, while your transcript and test scores are essentially set, so use these areas wisely to expand the story of “you”. For example, you have the ability to write two to three sentences describing each activity and your role. As a reader, it can be disappointing to encounter an engagement list with titles only and utilizing the space tell us a little bit more can go a long way.

Continue that effort into the supplemental essay. These prompts can often point to the values and mission of an institution, so we are curious to read your reflection. Glossing over the supplement signals a lack of intention, and you want your application to be a narrative of intention. Don’t skip the opportunity to tell us more.

The window to make an impression is short, so you might as well strive to make a good one. Or at least, not a bad one. While, there are plenty of tips and tricks out there in the white noise of admission advice, time, care, and attention to detail are the foundational elements of creating a successful application. You got this!