Showing an Admission Committee What Makes You Stand Out

Throughout your academic career, you make decisions about presentation of ideas constantly. When dealing with an admissions committee, there are several different goals. First, presenting your qualifications is critical. When doing so, maintaining a no-nonsense presentation is important. Qualifications are simply a checklist of requirements you’ve fulfilled. However, you also need to communicate what makes you exceptional. Don’t blur these two goals—understand that they represent two different things you must demonstrate.

The Difference Between Qualifications and What Makes You Exceptional

Your previous GPA is a qualification, as are your previous degrees, and the fact that you have years of experience in scholarship and/or employment. Understand that insofar as you are qualified, so is every student admitted to the program. Qualifications are how you meet requirements. What makes you exceptional is how you exceed them, and how your methods of exceeding expectations are unique.

Some Things That May Be Considered “Exceptional”

Choices You’ve Made: Determine those things which may make you stand out by thinking about traits which are unique or uncommon. Also, think about the personal choices you’ve made in how to fulfill your qualifications. Doing volunteer work itself is not exceptional—but if you chose a particularly involved way to participate, like traveling to another region and becoming immersed in another culture to do so, that may be exceptional.

Exceptional Efforts: Earning good grades is not exceptional; each student that excels must do this. It’s the standard for admission. But consider the circumstances under which you earned those grades, and you may find something that makes you stand out. Did you do so while working and volunteering an exceptional number of hours per week?

Unique Talents: Consider the talents and hobbies you have which aren’t necessary requirements, and consider the time you devote to them. These things may well be a way to make you stand out.

Representing Diversity: Introducing diversity to their student body is important to admission committees. Diversity need not be related to race or ethnicity, though it can be. Are you bilingual in a less common language? Are you from a different economic class than most of the students? A different region of the country? Do you have a different educational background than most? If so, consider the ways in which these things make you unique, and describe what they will add to the school as a whole.