We have heard about families that spare no expense in creating unique opportunities for their children to shine in the competitive college application process. Parents on a budget are at a loss as to what they can do to help their kids stand out if they lack the funds to send their child to Botswana for preservation work to demonstrate their passion for the environment, or to swim the English Channel to show their perseverance.

Earning AdmissionThere are free and inexpensive ways to enable your child to demonstrate value to a college. Through planning, parents can maximize any budget to turn their high school student into a stand out applicant. Try considering the following:

1. Create a community service or interest group. Colleges seek leadership, dedication, and entrepreneurship in future students. Starting and growing a service or interest group will allow your child to demonstrate that she is a leader at no cost.

2. Enroll in a niche sport like crew or squash. Admissions officers scramble to find enough applicants to fill their teams for niche sports making athletes skilled in these sports highly desired. There are so few kids playing these sports, that clubs and teams offer steep discounts and financial assistance to families to attract youth athletes. A student can row crew or play squash for a fraction of the cost of an adult.

3. Earn recognition. Admissions officers try to understand how an applicant will add to their college. Recognition help put an applicant’s talents into context. An aspiring English major with a knack for creative writing should enter writing contests or seek opportunities to publish her work in local newspapers or publications. No matter how small they are, winning a prize or award demonstrates that an applicant takes her passion seriously and is a high achiever. Recognition from a free or low cost competition, tournament, or opportunity to showcase an applicant’s skills will separate her from the sea of other applicants who are excelling, but not signaling to admissions officers how talented they are with their passions.

4. Be strategic with the applications. Recognize that colleges seek to balance genders and backgrounds in different majors and schools and applicants that provide that balance are more valuable to a selective college. For example, women earn over 57% of all bachelor’s degrees, but only 19% of engineering degrees. A female applicant with a demonstrated interest in engineering may stand out more than an equally qualified male applicant as admissions officers strive to create a balanced and diverse class. The same would go for a male applicant to a nursing program.Earning Admission

The most important part of the college application process is to stay true to the skills, passions, and interests that make your child unique. By encouraging your child to excel in what matters most to her, she will develop the skills and leadership college admissions officers covet in applicants. Your child does not need to climb Mt. Everest to get in where she wants to go to college. Demonstrating that she is a committed and passionate leader that is able to leave her mark on her dream college will suffice.

Greg KaplanGreg Kaplan is a college application strategist and author of Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges. Kaplan focuses on empowering families to develop their children’s high value skills, interests, and passions and market the value they would bring to colleges. Kaplan is a graduate of the University of Pennslyvania Wharton School of Business and UC Irvine School of Law.

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