Your College Application is Like Baking from Scratch

Any of the students who worked with me this year probably heard my baking analogy so many times they got sick of it. But it’s a valid comparison. When you bake cookies or a cake, the ingredients you use are important. What you add, and when you add it, makes a baked treat that tastes great. Add too much baking soda or leave out the salt, and it won’t taste right.

So what does any of this have to do with college admissions? Your application has parts and pieces that are the ingredients needed for your admission. These ingredients include:

  • Your grades-you want the best grades you can achieve, preferably A’s but some B’s. Avoid C’s or below. If you are working hard and getting C’s–and you have met with your teacher or a tutor for help–you may be taking courses that are too rigorous for you. Take the hardest classes you can handle and still get A’s or B’s.
  • Your coursework–some colleges are very specific about how many years of science, math, foreign language or english they require. They may require pre-calculus or physics. You should be taking four years of all five core subjects–math, english, foreign language, science, and social studies to increase your likelihood of admission. As mentioned above, take the most rigorous courses you can handle. Highly selective colleges will want to see Advanced Placement, Dual Credit, or International Baccalaureate if your school offers these programs. Don’t take a light senior course load unless you are doing a quality internship or co-op in places of courses.
  • Your activities, volunteering and work experience–colleges want to see that you are involved outside your classes. Your activities should reflect your interests, for example, robotics if you are pursuing engineering or student council if you want to go into political science. But they can also be things you enjoy like sports, theater, music and philanthropic activities. Colleges want to see that your involvement deepened–you were in the organization for multiple years, took on a leadership role, and can meaningfully reflect on what you contributed and gained. Having a part-time job is also valued. Volunteering in a meaningful way (not just being dragged by a parent to an occasional food pantry) is also important.
  • Your essays–Whether the personal statement on the common app or a school’s specific supplemental essay, these are a chance to showcase your personality and writing skills. While the personal statement allows you to write about any topic if you choose, you must ensure you are answering the supplemental essay prompts. Use each essay to share something new about you. Don’t just rehash information already on your application or in other essays. This is a chance to round out the flavor in your baking and show who you truly are.
  • Your intellectual curiosity–for students applying to highly selective programs, you want to show how you explored your intellectual interests. Maybe you took a college course during the school year, attended a pre-college university program, conducted research on your own or with a mentor. Being able to express the problems you want to solve and how you have started working on solutions through academic pursuits is critical to differentiating you from others.

As you finish up applications with rolling or January deadlines, good luck. Coffman consulting is always happy to help by brainstorming and reading essays, helping you develop your activity list or suggesting activities to connect to your interests.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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