MyCollegeGuide

      Search >

    The Secret to a Successful Application

    Discovering who you are will help you put your best foot forward on your college application.

    Todd Hertz

    secrets to a successful applicationAfter church one Sunday, I went out to lunch with six high school students from our youth group. A junior mentioned that she'd received her first college application—and was kind of freaked out. She wasn't worked up about the length of it or any of the essay questions. She was worried because the school was asking for lists of her academic achievements, community service, leadership experience and extracurricular activities.

    I asked: "What's the problem with that?"

    "Well, I don't have anything impressive to put there," she said.

    That comment shocked me. After all, this girl was on an ice skating team that won third place in nationals! When I mentioned that, she said, "But that's it. All I have is skating. It takes so much of my time, I don't do anything else. My application isn't going to be very impressive."

    I asked the other students what they planned to list as their accomplishments and activities. One said: "I just go to school and then come home." Another answered, "My family needs me to work. I don't have time for activities." A third said, "I'm in a couple clubs, but nothing impressive."

    Because of my friendships with these students, I knew there was one big area they were forgetting: youth group. All of them attend youth group every week, go on work trips to help the needy, serve on leadership committees and more. But not one of them thought it was something to put on an application. If they're missing that, I thought, what else are they missing?

    The truth is, you don't have to be the youngest person to climb Mt. Everest or the inventor of a new fuel in order to fill out a quality application. Every student—yes, every student—has good information to put on an application. However, it's easy to get caught up in the assumption that you have to impress colleges with long lists of accomplishments. But, the reality: This isn't about impressing colleges. Instead, it's a chance to let colleges see who you are.

    When you think about it that way, it's easy to realize anyone can fill those application blanks. Anyone can give evidence of who they are and what they do. You just have to find the things that explain your gifts, values and priorities. Here are a few tips to get you thinking about what you have to put on an app.

    Think about your time

    A lot of students assume the phrase "extracurricular activities" refers only to school-related sports and clubs. Not true. Actually, that's just a small portion of the things you can list on an application. Your extracurriculars are just any activities you fill your day with.

    So, start brainstorming: How do you fill your time? If you spend most of your time outside of school at work, write that down. If you like to read, write it down. If you have hobbies (horseback riding, dancing, writing) you're actively involved in, put them on the list.

    What have you done each day of the past week? If you were at church choir on Tuesday, Bible study on Wednesday and babysitting Thursday, write all those things down.

    What clubs or organizations call you a member? 4-H? Girl Scouts? Club soccer? Write them down.

    Look for your leadership

    Many applications will ask about leadership experience. If you've never been class president or captain of the basketball team, you may feel like skipping this one. But, just like there are lots of extracurricular activities outside of school, there are also a lot of leadership positions that aren't based on elections or varsity letters.

    In our youth group, students plan and organize worship services, deliver talks to the youth group, and completely design and execute a big fundraising night every year. However, when we talked about what leadership experience they had, not one of them mentioned any of that. These are leadership experiences, but the students didn't think of them that way.

    Read These Next

    How to write an essay that grabs a school's attention.
    What you need to know before you fill out college applications.