We always encourage our kids to have an academic niche area when they apply to college to set themselves apart from other applicants. Looking at any top college (check out this year’s freshman class at Harvard: http://www.admissions.college.harvard.edu/apply/statistics.html) you’ll notice that the most common areas of intended concentrations tend to be Biology (23%) and Social Sciences (28%) compared to less popular areas like math (6.5%), computer science (2.6%) and physical sciences (9%). Naturally at an engineering school like RPI, these numbers would be different, but for most liberal arts focused schools, these numbers hold true – colleges need to attract STEM kids for math and computer science and physical sciences whereas biology majors are a dime a dozen. The humanities (17%) is also a less represented major and can set kids apart as either a primary or a secondary academic area of concentration.
Top colleges look for applicants who have gone above and beyond and are high impact. As busy as you are getting top grades, nailing standardized tests and participating in clubs and sports, don’t forget academic contests.
Hundreds of well-regarded academic contests are held each year in many areas, including science, math, writing, foreign languages, the arts, and more. Contests range anywhere from one-day examinations, to essay contests completed on your own time, to yearlong projects. Many are geared towards individual competitors, while others require students to compete in teams or require school-wide participation.
A strong performance in academic contests is a great way to substantiate the interests that you choose to highlight in your application. If you want to demonstrate your love of math, for example, regular participation in math contests and strong scores on competitions like the AMC and AIME are a way to show colleges that you enjoy pursuing math outside of the classroom, and confirm your strong math abilities. Especially if you are strongest in an area where talent is difficult to quantify [can’t be conveyed through test scores], such as creative writing, drawing, or photography, recognition from a state or national contest in these areas will help in admissions.
Contests at the state and national levels tend to carry more weight in the admissions process than small or local competitions. The Intel Science Talent Search, the International Mathematical Olympiad, and the USA Biology Olympiad, for instance, have a lot of clout.
It’s never too soon to start researching which contests are available in your areas of interest! Contest dates and deadlines are scattered throughout the year, so be sure to note the timing of opportunities that interest you. You can by casting a wide net with a Google search, and you may also find helpful websites that list the contest opportunities available in specific fields. Also be sure to check out our 2013 edition of The Ultimate Guide to Top High School Contests and Awards Guide, which contains over 100 pages of information about the top contest opportunities available for various academic areas. We’ve done the work for you – all in ONE place. (Use coupon code SPRING50 to get a FREE 50% off coupon!)
If you see an opportunity that interests you, but it requires team or school participation, don’t disregard it! If you need a team, urge your classmates to join you, and if the contest requires school participation, lobby your teachers to get involved. By doing so, you will set yourself apart as a self-starter and as a team player, which are both qualities that will stand out on your college application.
Last but not least, many academic contests offer cash prizes, scholarships, and other awards to top participants! Not only do you get to compete in a subject that you are passionate about and boost your college application, but you may very well receive a bonus reward for your efforts. How’s that for a win-win?
When it comes to contests, try not to let the vast number of options overwhelm you. Instead, take some time, twenty minutes here or there, to look at different contests and see which ones interest you. And, when an exciting opportunity grabs your attention, pursue it, and get ready to wow admissions offices with your success.
Acquiring new skills takes practice! Please don’t wait until the last minute to begin your ACT prep. There is still time to get ready for the June 8th ACT if you begin NOW with practice tests, and test prep.
Remember to order and pay for Test Information Release (TIR) when you register for the ACT. You will receive a list of your answers, a copy of the multiple-choice test questions used to determine your score, the answer key, and scoring instructions. It might just be the best $18 you will ever spend! You can use this information to prep in a more focused way if you retake the test in September!!
Need your score quickly? Priority Score Reports are processed within two business days after ACT receives your request and usually delivered three to four business days later. Sign in to your account for more details.
And, remember these ACT tips:
1. Do the easy stuff first! Practice skipping the more difficult questions and coming back to them later. This gives you the opportunity to see and answer more questions!
2. Paraphrase the questions! Try to put the longer Reading and Science questions into your own words – simplify the questions as much as possible!
3. Predict an answer! After you’ve paraphrased the question, skim the passage for clue words and phrases within the question. Once you’ve located the clue words, answer the question based on the details in the passage, and then look for that answer among the choices.
Tweeting is NOT a good strategy for getting off the wait list! Much better to show schools your improved grades, scores, and new awards! A Brookline student’s story: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/05/07/brookline-student-says-twitter-campaign-helped-him-get-into-ucla/K1GCoDO5K8Gfzd3VeRm8YL/story.html