Preparing for College

Spotlighting Prestigious Program on College Applications

Question: My daughter was invited to attend a science program at a local university during the summer and is now attending it. Only 30 students in the state are asked to attend. How does she express this on her applications to college? She also received letters from senators congratulating her. Do we submit any of this?

Your question suggests that you've already sniffed out one of the key issues in college applications: that is, how to help exhausted (and often jaded) admission officials distinguish between a truly impressive, selective summer program and one that requires merely a fat checkbook to attend. These days, there is certainly a proliferation of summer study opportunities and other enrichment endeavors that high school students pursue with the hope of not only expanding their horizons but also their admissibility at elite college and universities. So how does one make a stand-out program, well... stand out?

When we work with our counseling clients, we urge them to submit an "annotated résumé" to each college on their list rather than merely using the application form which does not provide adequate room for many students' extracurricular undertakings. (Note: occasionally a college insists on using only the form provided, but this is not common.)

This annotation (just a sentence or two) helps admission officials recognize those activities that are especially prestigious or unique. One student, for example, who attended a selective summer program, explained it this way: First she named the program and the dates attended. Below that she noted:

One of 40 students (of ~1,100 applicants) selected by panel of college professor to attend this intensive reading and writing workshop. Overall assessment: excellent teachers (one was a novelist I'd heard of!) and classes (Women Poets! Wow!); lousy food (hamburger heaven; vegetarian hell) and, as for those bathrooms ... don't ask!

As you can see, without using up too much space, this candidate has really made her summer experience come alive. Had she only named the program she attended, chances are it would have meant little to her evaluators. This way, however, they not only get a good sense of its competitive admission but also they have a taste of the personality behind the prose.

As for those letters from luminaries. Don't go overboard with your submissions. One should suffice and only if it helps alert admission folks to the prestige and selectivity of the program. Since few summer gigs prompt political congrats, one letter might indeed serve as a small wake-up call to show admission committees that this is a top-shelf program in your state.