You usually don't know who is reading your application. It could be the admissions officer you met at your high school this fall. It could be a new admissions officer because the one you met already quit. The reader of your application may not even be a full-time employee as many colleges hire seasonal readers to help them get through the slew of applications each year.
Knowing this and the fact that your application is sometimes read faster than you can read this blog, are sobering reminders of how unexpected this process is. You need to have a clear plan in place when filling out your application and writing your essays.
1. Know your Soundbite inside and out.
I wrote an entire book about the fact that students who have a clear sense of who they are and what makes them distinctive from everyone else are able to stand out in any applicant pool.
2. Layer your ideas, experiences, and achievements instead of hammering the same things over and over again in your application.
The moment an admissions officer (or any random reader assigned) sees a student repeat themes or stories is the exact moment they lose interest in the application. For example, if you list an activity on your activities list, don't mention it again in your honors list.
3. Write your main essay on something that does not show up anywhere else on your application.
See #2 for why this is so important!
Free Download: Ultimate Guide to Picking the Perfect Essay Topic
4. Thoughtfully choose the activities, honors, and experiences that are truly meaningful to you or those that celebrate your Soundbite rather than attaching a resume or using the "Additional Information" section to squeeze in every last thing.
Admissions officers read applications in minutes, sometimes four minutes or less. Yes, that's right. They get easily annoyed when a student goes overboard and chooses to add unnecessary information. It's never how many things you list; it's about how you list them.
5. Let your application speak for itself.
Do not feel the need to send extensive follow up or email admissions officers all along the way. As I mentioned in #4, the goal is to not annoy the admissions officers. Most admissions officers are finding it difficult to keep up with students' emails. Many times, they don't even get back to the student.
RELATED READING: 5 Tips for Students Filling Out the Common App
I used to love when Tim Gunn, the former mentor of the TV show Project Runway, would encourage the contestants to edit their designs before they were done. Editing is so key to the application process and to life. Edit your college list so that it is reasonable and balanced. Edit your essays to come as close to the word limits as possible. Edit your achievements so that the really special ones stand out a whole lot more. Edit your Soundbite to the point that no one else in the world could say the same thing.
Best of luck submitting your applications!