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Many students think that, to get into a good college, they need to be the “model” candidate. While good grades and high test scores are definitely important factors, colleges want a diverse student body of people with real interests and personalities. So as you get your applications together, focus on being the best version of you that you can be.

When you think about getting into college, what are the big factors you imagine schools are looking for? If you’re like most students, your mental list probably looks something like this:

* grades: being on the honor roll, taking hard classes
* standardized test scores: doing well on the SAT/ACT or other tests
* recommendations: strong references from teachers, guidance counselors, bosses, or coaches
* application essay: looking interesting, witty, but humble to the admissions committee
* college interview: : talking to an on-campus or alumni interviewer with intelligence, a good sense of humor, and maturity

There’s one more thing that should be on your list, though. It’s a major factor that colleges take into account when they evaluate candidates for admission: the hook.

What exactly is “the hook”? Well, it’s a unique characteristic that sets you apart from the other applicants. The hook is what makes your application jump off the pile. It could be a personal attribute, like your ethnic heritage, or it might be an unusual hobby or job. The key to the hook is that it’s a little different, something that makes the admissions committee remember your application. Some examples of possible hooks include:

* personal achievements: Did you start a radio station at your school?
* special talent: Are you a chef?
* geographical diversity: Did you grow up in Alaska?
* extra-curricular activities: Do you play the bassoon?
* ethnic heritage & socio- economic background: Are you a Pacific Islander, or the first person in your family to go to college?
* leadership qualities: Did you run your school’s chapter of Amnesty International?
* athletic talent: Are you a champion speed skater?
* legacy: Did your parents or grandparents attend the school?

For a good hook, you either want something unusual or something you devoted a lot of energy to. So unless you were captain of the football team, playing football won’t necessary set you apart. Competitive kayaking probably would, though.

Remember, focusing is the key to life and to success in the college admissions process. So instead of signing up for yet one more club or sport, or throwing up your hands because you don’t think you’ve done enough activities, think about the things you do that you get the most excited about and of which you’re most proud. Think about what makes you different from everyone you know. Then make sure to tell the admissions committee about it in your application.

Good luck, and enjoy the harpsichord lessons! (just kidding)

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