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    Get Noticed: 10 Tips to Stand Out During College Admissions

    Posted September 27, 2023, 11:00 am by Stacey Ross Cohen
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    College admissions have changed dramatically in the past few years, causing more anxiety than ever for rising high school juniors, seniors, and their parents. As acceptance rates plummet and test-optional schools surge, the competition is fierce, and teens need an edge more than ever! Here are 10 tips for students to stand out to pave the way for success in college, career, and beyond.

    1. A strong social media presence can enhance a student's college application. An absence of social media presence can be a red flag. In an era where digital presence matters, teens should not hide online (as many teens tend to do). Instead, leverage social media to showcase interests, character, and strengths. Teens should engage actively with their dream colleges (faculty, alumni, admissions officers) and make themselves seen. For instance, if a teen is interested in applying to engineering programs, they should follow the chair of the Engineering department at their desired schools and consistently interact with the content they share.

    2. Conduct a self-audit. Teens should spend time mapping out their skills and passions which will help craft everything from their resume to college essays. Self-awareness is essential: it is empowering to uncover hidden strengths that give us a unique edge. Research shows that those with a high level of self-awareness are at an advantage and achieve greater academic and career success. The objective is for teens to uncover their personal superpower or "wow" factor that will capture the attention of admission officers, coaches, and more.

    3. LinkedIn is an essential part of a teen's success toolkit. LinkedIn, a platform often deemed exclusive to seasoned professionals, has emerged as a pivotal tool for teens seeking to stand out. The ideal age to get started is age 16. Teens should create a compelling profile, use a unique URL and professional headshot to showcase accomplishments, activities, and talents. The LinkedIn summary is a chance to make an unforgettable first impression on admissions officers, job recruiters, and more. The summary should capture the same skills and personal attributes teens plan to highlight in their college essays.

    4. Master the Art of First Impressions. College admissions officers dedicate an average of 10 minutes to each application. This highlights the importance of making a compelling first impression that is reflected throughout the application. College admissions no longer hinge solely on test scores, transcripts, and essays. Admission officers seek students with strong character traits such as integrity, leadership, resilience, and initiative. Such attributes should shine through their essays, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular involvements.

    5. Start Building a Network. The adage "it's not what you know, but who you know" resonates powerfully in the current landscape. The key to future success is to build a network in high school to help achieve academic and career goals. If a student has an early interest in a particular college, they should identify and connect with alumni as soon as possible rather than waiting until the eleventh hour. Once their LinkedIn profile is complete, teens can join groups that reflect their interests and skills.

    6. Entrepreneurial Skills Give Teens a Unique Edge. Admissions officers highly value entrepreneurial skills like problem-solving, creativity, and initiative. Teens should highlight instances where they've demonstrated these skills, and for a bolder move, consider launching a business venture during the high school years. Teens can explore various entrepreneurship programs, such as camps, clubs, and membership organizations, to gain valuable skills and experience.

    7. Cultivate a Digital Persona. With approximately 6 million Google searches a minute, teens (and everyone else for that matter) must put their best digital foot forward online. Indeed, Google has become the new resume, and someone searching for us will form impressions based on our online presence. Teens need to present a polished and consistent image across platforms, ensuring that their online identity aligns with their aspirations. Assume college admissions officers and potential employers recruiting the best talent will mine social media accounts to find bombshells.

    8. Be Different. Emphasize unconventional hobbies, personal growth, unique experiences, perspectives, and cultural heritage to stand out in a competitive applicant pool. Teens should showcase their talents and achievements through an online portfolio, personal website, video, or blog. Every communication touchpoint is key to become a standout applicant for college or a job; even an email signature line is a valuable piece of real estate to highlight achievements.

    9. Encourage teens to become their own news channel for college admissions. Social media platforms offer college admissions officers a glimpse into an applicant's credibility, and maturity, It's wise for teens to show admission officers their good fit qualities and interest in the school by posting about college visits, community activities, and academic/curricular awards. Remind them that before clicking "publish," put content through the PURE Test: Is it Positive, Unbiased, Respectful, and Ethical?

    10. Authenticity Counts. It's essential to avoid getting caught up with presenting a flawless image. Teens should prioritize being genuine rather than trying to fit into a predetermined mold or creating a persona. Colleges want to know the "real you," which means showcasing their strengths but also their vulnerabilities, challenges, and aspirations. Sharing experiences that have shaped them allows colleges to see the richness of their character, unique perspectives, and the qualities that set them apart.

    I interviewed over 40 admissions officers and educational consultants for my book Brand Up: The Ultimate Playbook for College & Career Success in the Digital World to gain priceless insights on getting an edge in college admission. The bottom line is that your teen needs to answer this question: Why should an admission officer choose YOU over the host of other college applicants? Perhaps said best by Hans Hanson, CEO, College Logic, "The 'ultimate secret' to winning admissions and earning scholarships is to distinguish yourself from others in a meaningful way. You have to be seen as one in ten. If you do, say, or write what everyone else does, then you are in the pack of nine…indistinguishable!” Here's to your teen: a true stand-out!

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    Stacey Ross Cohen

    Stacey is CEO/Founder, Co-Communications, TEDx Speaker & Best-Selling Author of "Brand Up"