Building Your Application Avatar

Stand out by creating a strong application that builds on your interests, showcases your abilities and brings out your personality.

By Unnati Singhania

April 2022

Building Your Application Avatar

Students can showcase achievements in up to 10 extracurricular activities from their time in high school, in their college applications. These can include participation in nature clubs, cultural clubs, trekking groups, sports teams and debating circles, to name a few. Photographs (clockwise from above left: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images; Arian Zwegers/Courtesy Wikipedia; Shantanu Nayak/Unsplash; DGLimages/iStock/Getty Images; Gabin Vallet/Unsplash


International high school students often apply for undergraduate programs in the United States due to its holistic admissions policy. The application process provides them with a platform to express themselves not only through academic components like mark sheets and test scores, but also through their personality and interests captured in the famous activities list.

The application allows students to showcase achievements in up to 10 extracurricular activities from their time in high school. Participation in extracurricular activities weigh into the university’s determination of the applicant’s fit in their student community. Often merit and talent-based scholarships are issued using this information. Students may also use the essay portion of the application to illustrate their values by elaborating on these activities.

So how do you write an application that stands out? In the highly globalized and hybrid post-pandemic world, the answer is a little different than in normal times. Often, students need to enhance their academic and extracurricular avatars to display their strongest self in applications. As an EducationUSA adviser, I work with hundreds of students on this process. Here are some tips to get you started.

Build on your interests
The first step is for you to identify your interests. The biggest mistake is to try to fit the mold you feel will be most attractive to universities. In fact, the strongest applications simply highlight your interests and natural inclinations.

Unlike normal times, you need to be proactive in identifying opportunities that may not be readily available, through conversations with peers or the guidance of a teacher. This is an opportunity to explore and expand the type of activities you participate in. You may identify activities and clubs that are already available in your high school. Teachers and school advisers can help you match your interests with what is available. Many schools have clubs for different causes, like nature clubs, cultural clubs, trekking groups, scouts, school magazines, editorial boards, sports teams and debating circles, to name a few. Try to be more than a member by initiating projects and actively participating in festivals and programs. Ultimately, try to get a leadership position. If you don’t find a club that you want to join, you can consider founding a club by gathering a group of interested peers and a teacher to be your club adviser and petitioning it to your school coordinator.

Demonstrating leadership and taking initiative are qualities that are appreciated by admissions committees. Moreso, if your school hasn’t completely transitioned to in-person programs yet, you may innovate in the virtual sphere by organizing online festivals with international participation or digitizing the school magazine.
Don’t be disheartened if your school doesn’t offer many co-curricular opportunities. School counselors are required to submit a school profile to admissions officials during your application, which they use to gauge context while judging applications. So, you will not be penalized.

Use your athletic talent
If you are an athlete, you can identify coaches and sports that are under the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) or the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), for community colleges, using their official websites. Here you will find universities that will define different levels of athletic commitment, which will be expected of you alongside academics. You may qualify for an athletic scholarship or a mixture of merit and talent-based scholarships at other universities. However, you need to start early, and often, as early as eighth grade. Once you communicate with university coaches, they will usually work with admissions on your recruitment, depending on the university. Coaches may follow your performance through the high school sports seasons to determine if you are a good fit for their teams, and may need an additional application for scholarship in addition to a performance tape. Depending on your university’s application requirements for letters of recommendation, you may also ask external coaches to write one on your behalf.

Connect with your community
Beyond high school, consider taking part in activities in your community and neighborhood. Join sport clubs, performing arts or language classes where you live. There are many initiatives where you may tutor others, take part in clean-up drives,volunteer with the elderly, or help a local organization. These engagements show commitment to your immediate environment and are often offered at the school levels through interactive or nature clubs.

Upgrade your skills
Your summer breaks and weekends are a great time to develop your application avatar. Many U.S. and Indian liberal arts universities and high schools offer rigorous summer programs for two to three weeks where you may develop a particular skill. Many U.S. universities also offer pre-college courses for 11th and 12th grade students. Online and advanced placement courses may be added to the courses list in your application to showcase superior academic abilities. If you have a hobby, try to document it in a way that can be linked to your application. Art students should develop a visual portfolio.

Overall, there are many opportunities to build your avatar by being true to your interests within your school, athletic and community spheres. For more tips on how to ensure your achievements are reflected in your application and essay, contact your nearest EducationUSA center.

Unnati Singhania is an EducationUSA Adviser based out of Kolkata and an alumna of The College of Wooster, Ohio.

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