4 Things You Can Do as a Freshmen or Sophomore to Help Your College Application Stand Out


We all know that to get into top colleges, students need to start preparing early in high school to stay competitive. That means, participating in extracurriculars and taking a rigorous course load as early as sophomore year. Starting a club or building houses in your free time is more common than you think, so to truly stand out among hundreds of undergraduate applications, you really have to go the extra step in pursuing and participating in opportunities that aren’t run of the mill. Here’s what I suggest for freshman and sophomores to get a leg up in the race:

1. Take as many AP, IB classes as possible

One of the major factors admissions officers take into account when assessing applicants is the rigor of their high school course load. To maximize your course rigor, I suggest taking as many Advanced Placement classes as your school offers as soon as you’re allowed to (I hear some schools don’t allow students to take AP classes until sophomore or junior year). This includes taking AP world language classes like Spanish, French, and Latin as well as the AP Calculus, AP Computer Science, AP English, and AP Fine Arts classes, depending on your interest. I also recommend students take classes to earn the IB diploma if AP classes aren’t available at their school. That being said, taking a full schedule of AP and IB classes will ensure you get max points for course rigor on your applications.

Infographic created by Meliani Wilder

Infographic created by Meliani Wilder


2. Get a summer job

I would say only about 1 in every 8 cases when I read undergraduate applications did the applicant list a job in the extracurricular or work section. So, when an applicant listed a summer internship or other paid work as an activity, it actually stood out to me. Jobs that are related to the applicant’s academic interest (stuff like starting an online clothing shop for arts majors or working at a hospital for pre-med students) were especially impressive. I recommend spending at least one summer pursuing paid work to bolster your experiences and activities for your application. Plus, working a summer job gives you one more thing to write about in those pesky “tell us about an experience” prompts.

3. Run for student government, including student commissions

One of the top extracurricular activities admissions officers look for when assessing a candidate is time spent in a leadership position on their school’s student government team. Being the student body president gets especially high marks. I work for a large school district, so I know that lots of school administrators operate student committees (to get feedback about how the school is running) that students have the opportunity to volunteer for and serve on at the school or district level. Being a part of a committee like this is usually open to all students so sophomores and freshmen can serve on them alongside their older schoolmates. Serving on a committee or in a top position in student government demonstrates initiative and leadership and will definitely help you stand apart from other applicants who haven’t assumed a school-wide responsibility.

4. Volunteer with a community organization to conduct an extensive research or advocacy project.

Community groups and nonprofit organizations are always looking for hardworking and capable volunteers to help build their capacity to do more work within their organizations. For highly talented freshmen and sophomores, I recommend they take advantage of these opportunities and coordinate with a local organization to conduct some research, outreach, or an evaluation they need to be done. Using your intellectual skills and academic interests to help a community group speaks volumes about your ability to learn in the classroom and turn that knowledge into something positive. It also demonstrates a willingness to dedicate extensive time to bettering your community since deliberately planned and executed projects can take months to complete.