Originally Posted: Jul 11, 2016
Last Updated: Sep 21, 2020
It’s important to note that the title of this blog post says “beef up,” not “fluff up.” We're talking about adding things of substance to your college apps—stuff that will stick to your ribs. (Mmm, barbecued ribs...) What does this delicious analogy mean? Well, you probably already know that it’s bad to join clubs just for the sake of joining—or worse, to lie about joining—to appear more involved on your college applications. But these tips will help you correct course and add something substantial to your college applications if they're looking a little thin...
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the college application process. This is especially true if you may don’t have the strongest standardized test scores or high school transcript. If you’re a rising high school senior, the pressure is really on, because there is little time to turn around your GPA or re-take the SAT or ACT. Fall and college application season is right around the corner, so what can you do to put your best foot forward for college admission committees? First off, don’t panic! There is still time for you to beef up your application. Here are five steps you can take, as described in my book, B+ Grades, A+ College Application.
1. Be a leader
Colleges value quality over quantity when it comes to your extracurricular activities, and they are looking for students who take initiative. Examine the things you are already doing and enjoy, and see where there might be opportunities for you to take your involvement to the next level, or if you’ve been discounting your level of involvement already. Look for organizations that support causes or issues you believe in and see if there are any opportunities to build on the work they are already doing. For example, if you are passionate about politics, see if there is a local campaign for which you can volunteer. (This fall is sure to be an interesting election season, to say the least!) Zeroing in on your personal interests makes it easy to invest the extra time and energy to stand out in them.
2. Get an internship
Yes, you can get an internship as a high school student! Similar to becoming a leader, having an internship gives you relevant experience and shows admission committees that you have a genuine passion for your interests. When it comes to your college applications, it is better to get an internship through organizations where interns must apply for and earn the position rather than getting one through someone you know. You may have to be resourceful when looking for internships, combing your personal network and reaching out via the Internet. Keep in mind that interns should be humble and flexible (and you will more than likely not get paid!).
3. Get a job
If you don’t have the time or money for an unpaid internship or academic summer program, you should consider getting a job. Having a job exhibits a strong sense of maturity and responsibility on your college application. The admission committee will understand that you were capable of adhering to a schedule, getting along with colleagues, and performing assigned tasks—all essentials of undergraduate work. Though delivering pizza may not seem as glamorous as a biotech internship, a real job can actually be more rare in the increasingly selective college applicant pool, and some old-fashioned elbow grease may end up working in your favor.
4. Take a class
If you’re a not-so-perfect student with a not-so-perfect GPA, you may want to consider enrolling in online or community college courses. While the grades you earn will not affect your high school GPA, at the end of the day, college admission officers want to admit students who are intellectually curious and take initiative. Even if your schedule is jam-packed, most community colleges offer courses during the summer and in the evening for flexibility.
5. Consider a summer program
Many summer programs for high school students demonstrate intellectual passion. You could choose a program that allows you to take college-level courses and live on campus as if you were a college student. Or, you could also apply for a program that is subject-focused, such as a foreign language program abroad. Unfortunately, not all summer programs offer financial aid, so make sure you can afford the program before you apply.
Related: The Top Pre-College Summer Programs
Are any of these tips an easy fix to beefing up your college apps? Not in the slightest—but they are well within your reach. Work hard from here on out, and your applications will reflect your effort in both their length and quality.
We have a ton of content on the college application process—check it out!