Preparing for College

What Awards to Include on College Applications

Question: Which of my awards should I mention on college applications?

It’s fine to mention all the awards you’ve earned, althoughâ€"depending on where you’re applyingâ€"some will carry little or no weight. For example, being tapped by Who’s Who Among American High School Students is probably less of an honor than being named bathroom monitor in many places. While it’s okay to leave it on your awards list, admission officials at the more competitive colleges won’t exactly be wowed to see it, so you may want to use your judgment when it comes to that oneâ€"or to similar dime-a-dozen honorsâ€"and perhaps skip it. Feel free to edit out any honors that seemingly half the school--or the state--receives. (These will vary from region to region.)

Most important, unless an award is universally well known (e.g., National Merit Semi-Finalist) be sure to explain each honorâ€"why or how you got it, what it means. Just a few words will often do the trick. If you are the only student who earned a particular honor, and not one of several (or many), be sure to say so. If an award is a regional, state, or even national one and not just a school-wide prize, be sure to point that out, too.

Some students have loads of awards to list on their applications and someâ€"depending on where they live and go to school or what their talents areâ€"have very few. Generally, the only time awards make a significant difference at admission-decision time is when they are major ones or, in some cases, unusual ones. Sometimes, too, awards establish a pattern that is telling. For instance, if you received several from various organizations for “leadership” or for “going above and beyond the call of duty” or even for being “congenial,” then this may give admission folks some useful information about you that your other application materials may not.