standing out on college applications

In last week’s episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, Beth Heaton continued our series on how to stand out in the college admissions process, and also addressed listener questions.

Standing Out in Where You Apply

Our latest in the “Standing Out” series looks at how the choice of where to apply to college can be a big factor in helping students stand out in the applicant pool. To chat about this topic, Beth welcomed back Christine Kenyon who jumped right in to the discussion over the different variables. They covered how everything from geography to popularity at your own high school can make you standout. They also explained how the thinking behind sayings such as “a big fish at a small pond” and “think outside the box” can make a student a very attractive candidate.

Listener Questions

We relied on you for this week’s Office Hours segment, with Beth and guest Kathy Ruby tackling listener’s college finance and admissions questions.


  • Many schools state that they offer merit scholarship awards, but leave out the specifics to give themselves some wiggle room. How much can a parent advocate for their child before becoming annoying?
  • Can I still qualify for merit aid if I don’t have financial need?
  • When will the FAFSA tell me what I’m eligible for?
  • My son said we need to wait to apply for financial aid until he applies for admission—is that true?
  • How much can my child borrow in student loans? (They ran out of time before getting into how much SHOULD your child borrow, but check out our blog post on this topic for more on that).


  • What can I do now as a senior to make a difference on my college applications?
  • My son has gotten a few priority applications from some colleges that don’t require a fee or an essay—should he complete them?
  • Is it really better to apply Early (Decision or Action), and what about Early Decision II vs waiting to see if you get in from a deferral from your first choice Early Decision school?
  • Do large schools really read the letters of recommendation and essays?
  • What do I do with such a small space for descriptions on the Common App activities list section?

On our next episode, Sally Ganga will be back in the host seat to continue our series on standing out and to discuss how to approach both supplemental essays and the CSS Profile. Want your question answered on air? Submit them online.


Written by Tova Tolman
Tova Tolman is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Tova worked in admissions at Fordham University, Montclair State University, and Barnard College.