What Are "Hooks" in the College Admissions Process?


The college admissions process includes some categories in which certain students have an edge, and these are often considered "hooks" to make an applicant stand out. Many families wonder what it takes to have a hook in the process, but the answer may not be what you think.

Consider These Common Hooks

The "hooks" that are fairly well known are categories like a legacy student, a student-athlete, an underrepresented minority student, a student with a connection to a current or potential university donor, or a very talented student in a specific area (such as superb clarinet player or a chess champion, for example).

But in some cases, an additional hook might be a student with an attribute that a college is seeking to represent further on its campus, so the school is hoping to recruit those students.

"Perhaps the student is from a rural area and the college is actively looking for those students, maybe they would like to take additional students who are first-generation (students whose parents didn't receive a college degree), or maybe there's a certain ethnic group that they colleges want to increase on campus to ensure diversity of thought in the student population," says Laurie Kopp Weingarten, president and chief educational consultant at One-Stop College Counseling in Marlboro, N.J. "There are 'invisible hooks' where colleges have a goal for the year, to increase the number of students who fall into a particular category, but many of these hooks are out of the prospective students' control and they are not typically privy to institutional priorities, so this isn't something that they can plan for."

Create Your Own Hook

So what about the typical student who gets good grades and test scores, has great recommendations, and is active in extracurricular activities? These students should try to find a way to create their own hook to make themselves stand out, advises Judi Robinovitz, certified educational planner and founder of Score At The Top Learning Centers and Schools, in West Palm Beach, Fla.

"What we've seen is that there is nothing like a student who starts her own unique extracurricular project," says Robinovitz. "Something that would not only show imagination and initiative and leadership, but also collaboration by getting other students involved. And a really good leader does know how to organize and delegate. Also, leaving a legacy. In other words, bringing on at least one or two younger students to be involved so that when she graduates, someone else will carry on this project. And it should be a project that, let's say, solves a problem, has an impact on her local community."

Robinovitz says that the strategy of trying to do something entirely new that makes a difference is its own hook, and she has seen it be successful for many students.

"For all the students that we have really helped create their own unique project, or who have just completely done it on their own, we have seen a tremendous difference in their acceptance to their top-choice colleges, especially when they were very selective universities, so I think that is a fabulous hook," she says. "And you don't have to be born to the right parents, or have the right genes, athletic genes, or legacy genes. You could just be an ordinary kid."

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!