Stand Out in College Admissions

Thinking Bigger for 2021 – How to Really Stand Out in College Admissions

Our goal at ReadyEdgeGo is to help students destress from the pressures of high school. The leading cause of this stress is misinformation. We have encountered countless students and parents who have misconceptions about the “steps” they need to take in order to gain admission into a certain college or groups of colleges. This misinformation is the real cause of the stress and pressure. We hope that this article can help clear some of those misconceptions up!

What Really Sets a Student Apart?

It’s not the numbers, that’s for sure. Stanford rejects around 69% of perfect SAT scorers every year, and we’ve seen the same trend apply to all the top universities in the United States. So, what gives? Why is it that so many students spend so much time and money on numbers, yet don’t always see the results?

99% of Universities

Intellectual Depth Outside of Class

The first thing that comes to many people’s mind for this topic is “weighted classes” and AP Tests. Students should absolutely take weighted courses in the areas of interest. However, what sets students apart is how far they went into learning it outside of class. Sure, summer programs are nice, but they are also extremely common and expensive. Instead, we suggest reading more and asking meaningful questions about what you read and in general. While everyone is spending $5000+ on the same summer programs, you can spend $5 on a book and get the same value, if not better. That’s how you truly set yourself apart, since no one reads anymore.


In this context, leadership is defined by convincing others to do something that they otherwise wouldn’t have done. Thus, starting an AI club for your friends to join, who are all already interested in technology, doesn’t really count. Same goes for becoming a class president and doing what the advisor tells. It’s about leading others to achieve something that they otherwise would not have accomplished had it not been for your leadership. Remember, to truly stand out, you have to encounter challenges and map out your own path. Don’t aim to follow the path that you’ve seen or heard numerous other students follow. In our 15 years of mentoring students, we haven’t encountered a single leadership experience that wasn’t challenging. By nature, leadership experiences require a challenge – it’s the only way we lead ourselves, and others, to something greater.


This isn’t about completing your service requirement, nor is it about how many hours you get or the Gold Award, the Presidential Service Award, Eagle, etc. It’s about serving; serving for the sake of serving your community. Another myth is that continuity among various experiences is what colleges are looking for. Continuity is important, yes, though having numerous experiences isn’t. We’d rather you serve deeply in one experience rather than lightly in three. 

Top 1% of Universities

Intellectual Range Outside of Class

Okay, we get you want to become a doctor, but that doesn’t mean all you should study and participate in is Biology. Yet, that’s what we see again and again and again in the students (and their families) who want to “stand out”. Meanwhile, the top of the top pre-med places and Biology ranked schools are virtually all liberal arts universities — which places a heavy emphasis on versatility and intellectual range. Particularly in reading, writing, and critical thinking. This lesson applies to all majors, even Undeclared. If you want to stand out, start studying other things beyond just your major! Be curious and well rounded!

Innovative Leadership

This term started in UC Berkeley Admissions several years ago, and it rings true of all of UC Berkeley calibre schools. The top 1% of universities aren’t just looking for captains of sports teams, or presidents of clubs. The top 1% are looking for something slightly different. How did you lead in a way that was innovative? Class officers don’t typically do this. They usually just perform tasks that every other class officer did before them. Same as sports captains, usually nothing out of the ordinary. So how will you contribute differently and in a positive way? This oftentimes doesn’t involve a club or sport or a fancy title of “leadership”. It’s usually just about solving a problem that involves other people, just in a unique way. 

Impactful Service

Time for some real talk. Stop counting the number of hours you’ve served. Stop signing up for different kinds of volunteer opportunities. Find the one or two service options that allows you to make a meaningful and lasting impact on people directly. By “meaningful and lasting”, consider whether your work is changing someone’s life for the better, and for how long. For example, serving food to the homeless is a good deed, but does it transform a homeless person’s situation in a meaningful or lasting way beyond that day? Probably not. Furthermore, those who serve the homeless in this way often don’t get to know the individuals they serve, hence making it difficult to extract what impact was really made. Fundraising often doesn’t check the box here, since your work is often distant from the people you will ultimately help. Your service shouldn’t necessarily have anything to do with your major. In fact, it’s usually best to serve in a way that’s completely different from what you plan on studying, simply because it demonstrates a more well-rounded life experience.


That’s it for this week. We hope that this has helped you approach your 2021 new years resolutions a little differently.  Good luck on all your finals and happy holidays. This will be our last post for the year. See you in 2021!

If you need any help with this, please reach out! For a full feature and even more detail, check out our YouTube video about it.

We specialize in youth mentorship and college counseling. From 8th grade to 12th, we have you covered for any stage in your high school career. Schedule a free consultation with us here.

We are always posting more helpful tips and tricks to help reduce the stress of college application season. Follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, and LinkedIn.

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