Featured Image

The Top 10 Ways You Can Help Your Students Stand Out to Colleges

The interactions that teachers, club advisors, coaches, guidance counselors, and school administrators have with students can have remarkable, lasting impact on students and help shape their life philosophy and sense of self.

As an independent educational consultant, I have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of students from high schools across the country. As I get to know these students and brainstorm with them on topics for their personal statements for their college applications, I always ask them to describe a person who has had a significant influence on their lives and why. Of course, the most common answer is a parent or other family member, but a close second is a teacher or advisor that has taught them a key lesson in life, pushed them to be more than they thought possible, or saw something in them that nobody else had. The interactions that teachers, club advisors, coaches, guidance counselors, and school administrators have with students can have remarkable, lasting impact on students and help shape their life philosophy and sense of self. This impact also helps students prepare for college because these life experiences, self-insights, and confidence help make them stronger applicants.

Below are the top 10 themes that emerge:

1. Let students take the lead

Colleges look for meaningful leadership in activities, and the more opportunities you provide for students to take the lead, the better they can develop their leadership style. Mary described her positive experience with student government.

The only limit placed on us is ourselves. The teachers are there to help, but ultimately we set the agenda, develop a plan for fundraising, and work together to make it happen. This year we raised over $6,000, a record for the school and #2 in the state, because we were able to come up with interesting ideas. We held a car wash, a parent fundraiser, a dance-a-thon, and several school-wide events that brought us together as a community.”

This untethered opportunity to imagine and lead provided my student with a strong sense of self and accomplishment. She lauded the teachers’ ability to step back and let the students lead the club.

2. Model good leadership through mentorship and strong communication

Students look to you as school leaders and examples of how they want to lead. Hannah talked about her experience with her history teacher and track coach in her college essay.

“He always used to tell us in class not to cut corners. I didn’t really understand this until I started running track. In this context, he repeated that if we cut corners we only hurt ourselves. I took this to heart and started running the full length of the course. I started studying harder in all of my classes, and because of his constant communication of this concept in the classroom and on the track field, I understood exactly what he meant. This idea became my mantra and I carried it out in all aspects of my life.”

3. Encourage balanced schedules based on student interests and talents

All students have their own strengths and weaknesses, and as advisors it is crucial to help them understand what they are and develop schedules that accentuate their strengths. For example, if a student is particularly strong in math and science, you can encourage them to take honors or AP classes in those subjects and not feel the need to overload themselves in other areas. The key is to help them find the right balances, because each student has a different threshold for work and rigor.

4. Identify opportunities for scholarships or contests

There are numerous contests, both local and national, in various disciplines such as the Intel Science Talent Search, The Scholastic Alliance for Young Artists and Writers or the National Council for Teachers of English. Many states also have Governor Schools for various disciplines that students can apply to during their junior year. Create a list of contests or scholarships in your subject area and encourage students to apply for these contests early and often so they get used to putting themselves out there. It is also great if the guidance office can serve as a central repository for all of the contests. These can be highlighted on the school’s website by subject area. Students are more apt to apply for a contest if a teacher or guidance counselor makes the suggestion.

5. Develop opportunities for independent studies

Some of my students’ most enriching academic experiences have come from doing independent studies in the form of a senior project, a science research program, or interdisciplinary research project. One student had the opportunity to do such a project that spanned over the course of his high school career through a science research program offered at his high school. He learned how to conduct scientific research, developed a computational database, arranged a science internship in a lab in Greece, and became an Intel semi-finalist. Another student is developing a historical archive of his high school’s theater program going back to the 1800s. This project came into fruition through the support of his history teacher and his guidance counselor. These types of opportunities promote intellectual curiosity, which helps students in the college application process. These independent studies work best when teachers, administrators, and guidance support them through communication and flexibility in scheduling.

6. Urge students to share their talents with the community

Students often ask me what type of community service they should get involved in. I encourage them to share their talents with the community and do something that reflects their interests and passions. The tennis coach for one of my students provided an opportunity for his team to teach tennis to kids with special needs and help out in the Special Olympics. A theater troupe reached out to the community by performing for underprivileged communities for free. One of the jazz bands plays annually at the Susan B. Komen walk for cancer. These students benefited greatly from these experiences and saw how they could make a difference by sharing their talent with the greater community.

7. Think beyond the classroom

Integrate real-world experiences into the classroom by organizing field trips, developing partnerships with the community or local colleges, and inviting guest speakers such as scientists, writers, psychologists, etc. to expose students to different career options. A few years ago a couple of the science teachers organized a field research trip to South Africa for students to do environmental field research. Not only did the students get first-hand scientific research, but they also benefitted from experiencing a different culture. The AP government teacher arranged for students to have an internship with a local congressman for the last month of class after the AP exam was completed. These types of experiences benefit students by linking what they learn in class to the real world.

8. Push kids to engage in things beyond high school

Colleges like to see that students are engaged not only in their high school community but the community at large. If students are talented in music, encourage them to audition for a regional, state, or All-State chorus, band, or orchestra. Athletes can try out for All-County or All-State teams. Top students in Model UN or Youth and Government can attend regional and state conferences. This gives them access to a diverse student body and gives them a taste of what it will be like in college.

9. Suggest meaningful summer experiences that align with their interests

Summer is a great opportunity to fill in the gaps or dive deeper into areas of interest. I have worked with students who have used the summer to beef up their community service, participate in athletic recruiting camps for their sport, attend Girls or Boys State, explore engineering, do an internship at a newspaper, or work in a yogurt store. All of these experiences add to the richness of a candidate. If your school uses Naviance, encourage the kids to look at the enrichment programs feature that lets students search summer opportunities by interest. Many pre-college programs also offer financial aid to those students who have a financial need.

10. Say yes

When a student approaches you to do something novel, find ways to support and not discourage. One of my clients felt strongly about providing food to the local food bank by creating “Food Bank Friday,” where students could drop off canned food each week. When she first approached the principal at her school, the principal categorically refused, citing numerous reasons why this could not work. This did not deter my student. She forged ahead and found a solution to all of the principal’s objections until she got the program approved. It ultimately became an integral part of the school and she was able to provide food to her local food bank.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Melanie Kajy

Melanie Kajy

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously during my senior year of high school. I started off using the college search to find more information about the universities I was interested in. Just this tool alone gave me so much information about a particular school. It was my one-stop shop to learn about college. I was able to find information about college tuition, school rank, majors, and so much more that I can't list it all. The college search tool has helped me narrow down which college I want to attend, and it made a stressful process surprisingly not so stressful. I then moved to the scholarship search tool to find scholarships to apply for because I can't afford to pay for tuition myself. The search tool helped me find scholarships that I was eligible for. The tool gave me all the information I could ever need about a particular scholarship that was being offered. The CollegeXpress scholarship search tool is so much better than other tools offered, like the Chegg scholarship search. Thanks to CollegeXpress, I was able to apply to tons of scholarships in a relatively easy way!

Kamal

Kamal

University of People Student

I registered with CollegeXpress, filled all my necessary and relevant information and the course I wished to study. Few days later an email was sent to me with the list of schools offering the course, amongst them was the University of People, the school I got admitted to.

Carlie Cadet

Carlie Cadet

High School Class of 2019

CollegeXpress has helped me learn about an abundance of scholarships available to me and my situation. I was able to do research for colleges in my best interest with your website. I've had multiple colleges email me and offer me multiple scholarships and things of that nature because of this website! Thank you so much for uploading scholarships I didn’t even know existed, even if my life took a huge turn and I wasn’t able to go to college straight out of high school. CollegeXpress helped me a lot in high school to be even more motivated to get into my dream college (which I did, by the way). I'm looking forward to using the materials CollegeXpress has kindly provided me for free to look for scholarships to help pay for college.

Keaun Brown

Keaun Brown

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner-2020, High School Class of 2020

As I transition to furthering my education, I can say with certainty that it simply wouldn’t be possible without the help of generous organizations such as CollegeXpress. Those who initially founded CX had no idea their platform would give a plethora of information to a first-generation homeless kid native to the ghettos of over half a dozen states. Everyone at CX and Carnegie Dartlet gave me a chance at a future when the statistics said I had none. And for that, I thank them.

Maliha

Maliha

High School Class of 2019

My college search began at CollegeXpress. Due to this helpful tool, I was able to gather a lot of information to guide my college planning decisions. Through CollegeXpress, I was also able to apply to several scholarships to help pay for my tuition. I would definitely recommend this website to anyone who wants to explore colleges and get more information from admission experts, counselors, and real students.

College Matches