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  • Jean Ashby

How to Hack the College Application Process

There are two ways you can feel when opening your response letter from your dream school. Fearful or confident. There is no mix of both. You are either confident in the strength and appeal of your application or you’re scared to death. The fear of having no idea what kind of responses your application will receive. As a student, you can meander through the application process and just hope everything works out. Hope is important, but it’s not tangible. You can hope and manifest all you want, but if your application is weak, you can expect negative responses.

Luckily, you have me and this article! Now, I don’t know all the answers, but I have studied and bested the college application process. I currently attend the #7 school in the nation and got into several other top #50 schools. I say this not to sound arrogant, but to build credibility. I want you to know that all these strategies I’m going to recommend are the same ones that helped me succeed when applying to schools. Now listen closely and reread if you must, because I am going to show you how to hack the college application process.

computer, notebook, and book bag

#1 Perfect Wording, Grammar, and Punctuation on the Common App

Most schools have their applications through common app, but some may have a different system. Regardless, the message is the same. You need to focus on every detail of the common app.

The family, personal, and education sections should be straightforward. Take your time and make sure all your answers are accurate and honest. When it comes to the activities and honors sections, things get a little bit more ambiguous. This part of the common app can be used to differentiate a good applicant from a great applicant. The activities section asks applicants about all their extracurricular involvements. For a student that was in numerous clubs or very involved, it is important to select 10 of the most important. By most important, I mean it needs to show your character. If you want to be a doctor and you are in between including journalism club and your school’s medicine club, you should probably go with the relevant option (aka medicine club). Make sure the involvements you put down are somewhat related to your career goals and display your hard work. Ensure that the hours dedicated are somewhat similar to the actual hours dedicated – just make sure it’s not too unrealistic. Next, in your description, don’t lie about your role, but make it sound as impressive as can be. Let’s take adding “lifeguard” as an extracurricular. Here are two ways to word it:

  1. “Watched pool and enforced rules.”

  2. “Managed Park with over 300 patrons, acted as a first responder in critical situations, learned and practiced CPR and AED skills.”

You can see that both options are true, but one is very descriptive and effective with Common Apps word limit per description.

lifeguards in a circle

All your common app sections should be triple checked for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Most schools won’t completely throw out your application if you have a simple mistake, but it won’t help your case. It is a quick way to turn application readers off, and it is easy to avoid. Use wording to your advantage and you will be steps ahead of the average applicant.

#2 Show Your Ambition and Passion in Your General Essay

Most people are under the assumption that their general essay can be their applications determining factor. These people are completely … correct. The general essay is your opportunity to show why you would be an asset for the schools you are applying to. Many applicants fall into two extremes. They either write an extremely nuanced and overcomplicated essay, or they strictly list what makes them great. The ideal essay is the sweet spot between these two options. Having a complex essay can confuse the reader and make it difficult to convey why you would be a great addition to a school. On the other hand, a simple and overly straightforward essay can imply apathy and will not show how you can learn from real life situations. That’s why you commonly see the most successful essays referring to something as simple as banana bread. These strange and seemingly irrelevant topics are usually the best for a student to show application of real-life situations into a college scope.

My essay was about heartbeats and how they affected me throughout my life. With this essay, I was able to talk about some of my accomplishments and my expectations for college while referring to a theme. Most importantly you must reveal what colleges can expect from you and even what you can explain from them. Give yourself sufficient time and multiple drafts to decide which essay is your best work. A counselor can help make sure your points are relevant and strong. Supplemental essays are also paramount to your application, but the strategies for this differ a little from the general essay. They are often overlooked but can be a determining factor for most schools.

a heart and a textbook

#3 Rank the Schools You Are Applying To

When applying to schools you should create a ranking system that will help boost your confidence. This ranking system can be used to determine what level each college is in reference to your statistics. Your ranking can be as detailed as you like, but it should at least always have four categories:

Safety / Backup

The safety/backup categories should include schools that you are 99% sure you are going to get admitted to. These schools are just in case you can’t get into other more favorable schools. They should still be schools that you like but may just be a little bit worse that your other options.

Target / Competitive

Your target schools are schools that you have a 75% chance of being admitted. These are schools that you would be happy to attend, they should fit your preferences and be substantially better than your backups.


Your reach schools are universities that you have a 25% chance to be admitted to. These are schools that fit your preferences and you would love to go to, but you may not have all the accolades necessary.


These are schools that you have a 10% or lower chance of getting into. These are the schools that you would love to attend and that fit all your categories perfectly.

college campus

Goodluck on your college application journey. Really show what you bring to the table. For more tips follow @BoostUniversityCC on Instagram. We offer college counseling for all grades and have a application Boot camp for rising seniors. Our counselors are attending Johns Hopkins University, MIT, and Brown. Contact 954-288-3694 or for more specific pricing and a free consultation. Godspeed all applicants.


Sidenote: all these percentages are not the acceptance rates of the schools, but a personal degree of confidence. You can find this by researching the stats, extracurriculars, and accomplishments most admitted students have. You can then compare yourself and estimate your likelihood of being admitted. Having this system can help your confidence, decision making, and stress.


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