Tips for Making Your Case

Written by Nell McCormack Abom, Host Smart Talk TV | Oct 13, 2009 9:36 PM

While I will address these and other questions in the set of tips below, I want to emphasize that admission committees are most interested in learning about you and what you have to offer the community of scholars they are building through the admission process. With that in mind, focus on your story. Present it consistently and eliminate the guesswork for the folks who will read your applications. Use your application to make a compelling statement that says, “Take me!”

Six Tips for Making Your Case
1.    Know what it is you want to say about yourself. If you are having trouble getting your arms around this, either because there is a lot to say or because you are struggling to find a beginning point, try the following:
  • Think about how others see you. How would your friends describe you? Your teachers? Your parents?
  • What key words and thoughts begin to emerge? Generous? Competitive? Studious? Inventive? A leader? A “renaissance” person?
  • Choose two or three that are most consistent with your core identity.
  • List the key involvements, experiences and achievements that make the connection to these themes.
  • Look broadly and creatively at your application (essays, extracurricular profile, letters of recommendation) to find opportunities to make your case.

2.    Resist the temptation to add newspaper clippings and certificates of your achievement. This isn’t the time to illustrate your accomplishments; rather, it is a perfect opportunity to give your voice to the telling of your story.

3.    Resumes are not terribly helpful and only add to the clutter of the application. Admission officers want to see how you distill the information that defines you in the space provided. If you absolutely need more space, submit an additional page with your application.

4.    Focus on the events that have defined your life since the beginning of high school. Earlier accomplishments are nice but they have become ancient history from an admission perspective! Reference them only if they have had a profound impact on the person you are becoming.

5.    If you are submitting information in support of your talent in the arts, send two copies—one to the admission officer who recruits in your area and the other to the director of the program that interests you.

6.    If you are preparing DVDs to submit in support of your athletic interests, resist the temptation to put together highlight reels. Coaches want to see game films in their entirety. Why? They want to see how you make the plays—AND what you are doing when the spotlight doesn’t fall on you.


Perhaps the most important tip is actually the reminder that you need to put yourself on competitive playing fields where you will be valued for what you do well. This is the essence of a good college fit. You can’t will your way into a college or university simply because you are qualified and have a strong desire to attend. If what you have to offer isn’t valued, your chances of getting in aren’t that great. Focus your time and attention on making the case for yourself at schools that make sense for you.


Peter Van Buskirk is an author, consultant, speaker and creator of the Best College Fit™ Resources. Visit to learn more about Peter and his student-centered approach to college planning.

Published in Life After 12th Grade

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