College applications are a daunting task. You’ve packed countless hours of homework, volunteering and activities into your schedule, and now you have to explain to someone why that means you deserve a spot at their school. You have to make yourself stand out from millions of other students. It’s not easy – three drafts later and that essay still sounds clichéd – but some have found a way to break the mold and make their applications unique. These strategies don’t always get you into that one dream school, but if you’re creative enough to make one, you’re sure to get in somewhere amazing.
Record a song
Jackie Milestone gained Internet fame in the winter of 2012 with her catchy pop song about Yale stealing her heart. Jackie recorded a song after her Early Admission application was deferred, showcasing not only her excellent guitar-playing and singing abilities, but also impressive collection of Yale merchandise (we counted at least 13 different Yale t-shirts) to bolster her chances. Unfortunately, she didn’t get in, but she did get to show the world her creativity and resourcefulness!
Rap your way off the waitlist
Michael McCartin was waitlisted at Johns Hopkins University in the winter of 2011– at which point some applicants would just give up and choose from the schools where they were actually accepted. But Michael wasn’t deterred by the waitlist. Instead, he made a rap video to explain why he would be a great fit for Hopkins and vice versa. One of the best aspects of this video is how specific it is: Michael named buildings on the Hopkins campus and showed pictures of them, mentioned programs that interested him, and didn’t shy away from talking about his own great qualities. The video worked, and Michael is now a sophomore at Hopkins!
Show off your special talents
Hannah Phillips, who graduated from Johns Hopkins University in May of 2012, decided to take advantage of a question on the application, “Describe your community using any medium you wish.” Phillips sold handmade jewelry at craft fairs in high school, and realized that she could use that talent as her “medium.” She submitted a necklace with charms hanging from a pendant, including a couple of sentences for each charm explaining its significance. Finally, she placed a blue jay charm (the Hopkins mascot) in the box the necklace was in, without attaching it to the necklace.
“I wrote something like, ‘This charm is not yet attached because it represents a community I wish to be a part of’,” Phillips said. “I guess what still amazes me is the fact that it actually worked! Because doing something I actually enjoyed made it the easiest college application essay I ‘wrote.’”
So there you have it. If you have the opportunity to use one of your hobbies or talents in a college application, take it – it’ll make the application feel less like a painful chore and more like an expression of who you are.
Find a new angle
Carly Schneer got into Ithaca College by taking a fresh angle on the traditional college essay. Instead of choosing an activity or relationship to write about, Carly got her essay idea from a dream, in which she met her 4-year-old self.
“I love writing letters and I thought a great way to talk to my younger self was through a letter,” she says. “I created this amazing letter about everything I went through from the time I was four to the time I was 17 and what I learned about myself and my life throughout that time. I actually received a letter from the University of Pittsburgh saying that my essay was one of the most unique essays they ever saw and it was one of the main reasons I was accepted.”
Carly used her essay as a chance to write something meaningful – and the impact has lasted. She loved writing about the 12-year period between ages 4 and 17 so much that she will continue to write letters to her younger self.