Confessions of a College Admissions Officer
Don't underrate extra-curricular activities
Allman says that grades almost always count for more than extracurricular activities, but don't sell those activities short. If a student has talent and accomplishments in the fine arts, athletics or other areas which are sought after by a particular college, this can become a significant factor in the college admissions student selection process. In general, colleges seek depth of involvement, not breadth, so focus your time and attention on a few activities in which you excel and enjoy and skip the resume builders, Allman advises.
Colleges want risk-takers
High school students who show that they reached high and took tough courses tend to get a longer look by admissions officers. Allman notes that the "rigor of the curriculum" is important to colleges, as is the quality of the high school attended by an applicant.
"There are great students at less demanding schools and there are marginal students at superb schools," she says. "The students that we seek are those that have 'bloomed where they are planted,' taking the most challenging curricula afforded them, going beyond expectations and exhibiting real motivation and intellectual curiosity," Allman says (in a note that should get the attention of students thinking of skipping AP courses or physics and calculus to goof off once the core requirements are reached.)
Students with International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme and Advanced Placement (AP) programs fare especially well, Allman notes.
Labor over your essay, and don't have your local Shakespeare (or mom or dad) write it
College admissions officers have developed a trained eye when reviewing college essays, and any attempt by a candidate to enlist adult help, or professional help, with the essay won't go over well with admissions managers. She advises making the essay your own, write with your heart, and write clearly and compellingly. That will give you a leg up in the admissions game.
Be careful with LORs
Letters of recommendation are a great way for high school students to make their case, but you need to be careful about who you choose to write the letters. Allman says that the ideal LOR writer is a high school teacher who knows the student well. Any LOR from someone who doesn't know the student personally will be a red flag in the application.