5 Places to Unlock Hidden Value in College Applications

In Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman reveals how we need to distinguish between repetitive tasks that require “fast” thinking and problem-solving, which requires “slow,” focused attention.


Sometimes online forms like the Common App lull us into “fast” thinking--typing, filling in blanks, the little voice in your head saying “get it done so you can get to the next thing.” But there are places where college applications require slow, careful work.


Here are five places you want to make sure to slow down and give your best attention and especially time:
  • Remember to always click the box that says “consider me for scholarships,” including the Common App’s new partnership with Scholar Snapp, a free, easy and encrypted service to find you more money for college.
  • Take time to show what you’ve done in the Activities Section: There are two text boxes for each activity. The first one is for “Position/Leadership description and organization name” and you’re allowed 50 characters: Use well-recognized names (e.g., Captain, not Leadership Team) and no hyperbole (Treasurer, not CTO). The second box asks you to “Describe this Activity.” You don’t need to use whole sentences. Use specific details and show what you’ve done. “Led team to first-ever county and state championships. Top scorer. Instituted summer practices and “Math + Lax” service project in middle school.” This section is a bit of a puzzle; have fun with it!
  • Talk to your teachers and counselor about your recommendations: Though you can’t tell teachers what to write in their recommendation letters, you can (and should) take time to discuss your college plans with them, and remind them what you learned in their class, any accomplishments you feel particularly proud of, and how that class is related to your future plans.
  • Know when to use--and when not to use--the Additional Information essay: When I was a faculty advisor to the Admissions Committee at Rutgers, we often laughed (or groaned) about students who tried to stuff every little thing into their application. And, in general, “less is more.” But if there’s something unusual about your application--maybe the GPA is funky because you attended three different high schools, or your most important coursework was actually online--you want to take the time to connect the dots for the admissions reader. No repeating, no special pleading, but you definitely want to explain things that are unique. In cases of illness or other situations that may have disrupted your education, have a direct conversation with your college counselor about the best way to represent that to colleges.
  • Spend time on the supplemental essays for each college you’re applying to: Many students spend months on their personal statement, and then do all their supplements in a mad rush right before they are due. Don’t make that mistake. Supplements are the place to reveal that you are strong fit for that particular college. So get your supplements organized early on in the process. Figure out which stories you want to tell and where you will use them in each application. And make sure to research each individual college, and answer their supplemental questions, whenever possible, in a way that are specific to that college and to you.

Need help getting organized or deciding which stories to tell? Story2 has helped more than 100,000 students connect with their top-choice colleges.

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