We all know how competitive college admissions can be, and that’s doubly true for high-profile and elite universities. In order to be successful, your student must be able to stand out in a crowd of qualified applicants, in addition to being a high academic performer. Identifying what makes your student uniquely qualified – and being able to verbalize it – is a critical aspect of a successful application, but it isn’t always easy to define.
Finding your College Admission X-Factor™
Few students are immediately clear on their College Admission X-Factor™, and most have to do some deep digging to get there. Here are the first three steps every student should take.
Step 1: Start by choosing a major
If your student is struggling to hone in on their X-Factor™, I encourage them to start by choosing a major. This may seem like putting the cart before the horse, but hear me out. Yes, majors change – mine did! – and nothing is ever set in stone, but a chosen major allows for a student to ground their pursuits in high school so they can prepare for something. That focus and preparation is incredibly helpful, even if they decide to change directions down the road. This allows them to consider what kind of messaging will be effective, while also tapping into their authentic self and how it relates to their future goals. Preparing for a major (even if that major changes) is better than your student spreading themselves so thin that they don’t know what they want to do or what their priorities are.
Step 2: Choosing the right major (right now)
Your student’s major should reflect their passions and interests, and while many of this generation have an understandable desire to be pragmatic, their major shouldn’t be out of left field. The most popular majors right now – Pre-Med, Business, STEM careers – won’t work for everyone. The idea that these majors are more practical than something in the humanities – a myth – can sometimes put pressure on a student to choose a major that lies outside their interests and personality, a recipe for unhappiness if ever I heard one. Students should bring their lived experiences into the process, and choose a major that makes sense for them, not the major that they hope will have the most earning potential.
When choosing a majors, students should keep an open mind. The most popular majors can be extremely competitive and crowded, making it more difficult to stand out in a sea of applicants. I suggest looking outside those majors and exploring what speaks to them. If your student is interested in a humanities major like English, but loves Greek and Roman mythology, a major like Classics (the study of the languages, literature, and cultures of ancient Greeks and Romans) may be right up their alley. If your student is interested in Computer Science and has demonstrated a love for statistics, a major like Data Science could be a better fit, with a less-crowded applicant pool to boot.
Students should bring their lived experiences into the process, and choose a major that makes sense for them, not the major that they hope will have the most earning potential.
Step 3: Profile-building opportunities
Students should select profile-building opportunities that align with the major they’re considering. These are extracurricular and intellectual pursuits outside of the classroom that can enhance your student’s preparation for that major (and their application). Many majors are multi-disciplinary, and exploring these kinds of activities can help them find the clarity they need to settle on a course of study that works for their authentic self. If your school or community doesn’t offer the opportunities your child seeks, create them!
Ivy Insight helps students dig deeper into their potential majors with our Emerging Leader Program. We pair you with a professor for a one-on-one, eight week experience. We have over 95 professors in our network, from different colleges across the US and the UK, spanning a variety of different disciplines. Ivy Insight also provides support through our Passion Project Program, where we help students to develop expertise and garner attention for their talents and achievements. For example, we’ve helped students with the book writing and publishing process. We’ve assisted students pitch to media organizations to gain more visibility for their achievements. We’ve helped students found community organizations and secure funds. Wherever your student’s passions lie, there is a project out there that can nurture them.
Why choose your major first?
When your student chooses a major before the application process begins, it doesn’t mean that it’s set in stone. However, it can give them more passion, excitement, and clarity about the admissions process and about themselves. You already know your student is unique and special; this exploration can help universities learn that too.
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