Kids & Money

Advice on making college applications stand out

Updated: 2013-10-18T21:24:30Z


The Kansas City Star

It’s long been a surefire strategy for filling out a successful college application: The more volunteer experiences, extracurricular activities and other special interests you can note, the more you’ll stand out from the rest of the applicant pool.

That’s old-school thinking, according to Anna Ivey and Alison Cooper Chisolm, college counselors and authors of a new book titled “How to Prepare a Standout College Application” (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint).

Nowadays, they say, college admissions officers are more interested in quality over quantity and deep passion and impact over signing up, showing up or meeting the minimum community service requirements.

“Fluff adds nothing to your resume,” Ivey and Chisolm wrote in their book.

The two authors, who have more than 20 years of combined experience as college counselors, said their goal in writing the book was to help students turn in applications that would be a cut above all the other great kids’ applications.

All too often, they wrote, students with great credentials don’t turn in standout applications. Admissions officers have a shorthand name for these applicants. They’re called LMOs, short for “like many others.”

Applying to college is daunting, with challenges and stress points every step of the way for students and parents alike. But Ivey and Chisolm contend it doesn’t have to be that difficult if you develop a plan for a well-prepared application.

Their book details seven application strategies, urging students, among other things, to think like an admissions officer and to work smarter, not harder. But here’s the one that struck me as most important: Use the application to tell a compelling story about who you are and what you will bring to the college.

To help students convey that message, the authors recommend drafting a resume — much as you would if applying for a job, except this one would focus on four attributes and characteristics that admissions officers want to see.

The core four? Passion, talent, initiative and impact, the authors said. Weaving those four characteristics about yourself into the essays and other personalized parts of the application should make the process easier.

Other pointers for creating an awesome application:

• Allow enough time to do a good job. Ivey and Chisolm estimate it will take 100 hours to fill out applications to various schools. They recommend starting the process the summer before senior year. Keep that in mind, Class of 2015.

• Keep the list of schools under consideration short. A manageable number, they say, is eight to 12.

• Investigate the family tree. Schools typically give preferential treatment to legacy applicants. Even if the only family member to attend the school was a great-uncle who earned his degree in 1925, include the information.

• Beat submission deadlines by at least a week.

The authors aren’t suggesting the application process will be a piece of cake. But by following their recommendations, your high school senior will minimize the workload, eliminate much of the deadline pressure and set up the possibility for a happy outcome.

To reach Steve Rosen, call 816-234-4879 or send email to

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