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Child Holding Trophy

Want to know a secret?

It is not hard to stand out.

You’ve been told that only the really special kids get into the Ivy League and other top colleges. They are the kids who have done ridiculously incredible things. Perhaps they’ve won the Olympics or got the first prize in a national physics competition.

You don’t think you’re a genius or an athletic champion so you are just stuck applying with the rest of the masses and hoping you get lucky, right?


You have the power within yourself to make your application shine.

“You don’t even know me!” you’re probably thinking.

Well it doesn’t matter if I know you or not because I’ve never met a student who I thought didn’t have the ability to stand out if they wanted it badly enough.

I don’t care if you don’t have a lot of money.

I don’t care if your school doesn’t offer many extracurricular activities.­

I don’t care if your parents didn’t sign you up for soccer camp or violin lessons as a kid.

You don’t need any of that.

All you need is the ambition and drive to do something, to start something, or to lead something.

Colleges want enterprising people. They want people that can have an idea and then make it happen.

There are a 10,000 ways to make something happen, and many of them aren’t even that hard.

They do, however, require you to take a moment to think for yourself, step out of your comfort zone, and do something different than what you’ve done before.

Most people aren’t willing to do that, especially when they are wrapped up in getting good grades, signing up for school clubs, and taking standardized tests.

Take a Saturday and spend it thinking about what you are passionate about.

What could you do that would be truly unique?

I’ll give you a few ideas to get the process started.

So you like to bake…

Bake some cookies once a month. Sell them to your friends, family, and neighbors.

Use the proceeds to purchase food for the homeless or support some other local cause you care about.

Guess what?

You have founded and now run your own charity. That sounds pretty good, right?

So you like to sing…

Find a few friends and form a small ensemble. Volunteer to sing at some nursing homes. Ask local coffee shops/bars if you can perform.

Now you’ve founded and are the director of a singing group with a long list of gigs and accomplishments you can list on your application.

So you like to watch movies…

Organize a film festival at your school. Post flyers around your school inviting people to submit short films they’ve made and charge a small entry fee. Use the proceeds to grant small scholarships to the students who submitted the best films.

Now you’ve started a film festival and a scholarship program.

So you like to write…

Send your work in to your school’s literary journal, and enter contests like the Scholastic Art & Writing Award.

Better yet, publish your own online literary journal, which doesn’t have to be anything more than a simple website you start.

Invite your friends to submit a few pieces, and suddenly you are the founder and editor-in-chief of an online publication.

So you like to do art…

Build yourself a portfolio of work that you can submit with your college application. To take things to another level, ask a few local businesses and establishments like the coffee shop, public library, or bank if they would be interested in displaying a few of your pieces in the lobby.

If you can get them to agree, you can say you’ve had your work selected for display at X, Y, and Z establishments which sounds pretty impressive.

Similarly, you could also ask a few of your artist friends to contribute a couple of their pieces and you can get all of your work displayed in a local establishment.

Now not only has your work been showcased, but you’ve founded and organized a community art show!

So you like to earn money…

Start a small business. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Organize a network of local babysitters, and advertise their services at a daycare.

Put together floral arrangements, and sell them after all of your school’s plays.

Use a skill you have like playing the cello, and start a summer camp to teach local kids the basics.

Having any kind of profit-generating business before you graduate from high school shows uncommon drive and ambition.

There are so many things you can do to stand out. Be creative. You can figure out hundreds of other ways to do something impressive if you let yourself think outside of the box.

With a little effort, you can do something you are passionate about and that will impress your admissions officers just as much as any medal or fancy award.

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