Each year college admissions gets more and more competitive. The huge rise in applications along with the competitiveness of the applicants is driving very low acceptance numbers.

As this trend continues, it is imperative that high schools have college counseling programs that can help students stand out in the admission process.

Calling back to my previous career in marketing and business, I began to break apart the admission process to see what could be done to help students differentiate themselves. I want the colleges to choose our students at MPA rather than other students.

How do we do this? By showing that our students are unique from other students applying. Grades and test scores are a must to make the initial cut but there are a variety of things that can make students stand out in the application process. Through the process, beginning freshman year at MPA, we help our students differentiate themselves in the application process.

1. Pick your major carefully.

I urge students to look at majors that are not as popular (like humanities majors). CollegeNavigator.com is a great resource for looking at how many students major in different subjects by college. Applying to an undersubscribed major increases the student’s admission chances. But it is necessary that the major ties into the student’s overall story. They can’t say that they are interested in studying Russian studies and have shown no interest in this in high school. Students are worried that they will be stuck with a certain major; however, at most colleges, especially liberal arts colleges, it is very easy to switch majors.

2. Develop an extracurricular strategy.

Students need to do things that are unique and different that highlight their passions and strengths. At MPA we begin sophomore year helping the students identify their strengths and passions. In addition, each student is required to do a capstone project which highlights their passions. Students work for two years on the project culminating in a presentation senior year. This project helps differentiate our students as they are doing something no other students are doing. Not to mention that this project is usually a great topic for college essays!

3. Get leadership experiences.

Students need to get leadership experiences that go along with their story. At MPA we look for opportunities inside and outside the classroom for students to become leaders in areas that they are passionate about. This is a must for college applications!

4. Make use of summer experiences.

It is vital to use summer as a time to take a summer program, intern at a company, or do volunteer service work. But I always encourage them to differentiate themselves from the typical experiences that most students will have.

5. Write a great essay.

Students work on developing their common app essay second semester junior year in class. With their capstone project they have a great theme for their essay. Students work all second semester on this important essay leaving for summer with their essay complete!

Though there are no guarantees in college admissions, anything students can do to differentiate themselves will help. At MPA we are dedicated to helping students have the best possible chance of gaining admission to their top-choice college.

By Tanuja Rathi

Mrs. Rathi is our Director of College Counseling.