Keys to Success in College Admissions

Important aspects of a unique college application with the insights of Ivy League bound students.

Posted by Charles Fregozo & Pasha Jandaghi on March 8, 2021

The application process for college admissions can be extremely stressful for teenagers, especially during these trying times. In this article, we hope to alleviate some of that stress, while clarifying some misconceptions about the application process to hopefully give you some insight on how to make your application stand out amongst the rest.

How COVID-19 Has Affected the Application Process

Even though high schoolers currently face immense challenges and are restricted by COVID-19, the most important elements of a college application remain unaffected: high GPA in rigorous classes, stellar essays, positive recommendations, and extracurricular activities that represent who you are to the college.

However, one major part of the application process that has been changed is the precedence of standardized testing scores. Due to restrictions placed on taking standardized tests that are beyond highschoolers' limits, many universities have announced test-optional policies for the 2021 admissions cycle and even suggested eliminating these tests entirely. Therefore, test-optional schools have declared that submitting SAT or ACT scores is unnecessary; despite the fact that test-optional schools claim that these standardized testing scores are unnecessary, it can be to your advantage to submit your SAT or ACT scores if you scored particularly high on it.

Current Loyola senior and rising Harvard University freshman Jesse Troyer said, “I had already taken the SAT the end of my sophomore year and beginning of my Junior year before the pandemic, and I was satisfied with these scores, so I decided it was to my benefit to submit a competitive SAT score to the colleges I applied to.”

College Application Essays

With many colleges requiring supplementary essay prompts that integrate their own school-specific questions to gauge an applicant’s knowledge of the institution or their motives for applying, it is paramount to get a head start on completing your personal statements for the colleges you are applying to. Most college applications open on August 1st and are due sometime in late-fall. Due to the amount of essays you have to write and the strict deadline for their due date, I recommend getting a head start by starting to draft your ideas over the summer. This process of drafting ideas, brainstorming, and even starting to write your personal statements over the summer, right before the applications open, gives you an ample amount of time to make your essay stand out.

Troyer said, “I recommend getting started on your personal statements early so that you have adequate time to edit and make changes as you see fit. By starting before applications open, you can also relieve yourself of stress that you might encounter during the school year due to the demanding time your rigorous courses you will be requiring.”


Being the cornerstone of all competitive applications, student leadership and the ability to be a facilitator both on and off-campus demonstrates to colleges your time management skills and prowess to organize the people around you to complete a common goal.

Stressing the importance of leadership roles, current Loyola senior and rising Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania freshman Julain Ha said, “If I had to assume what element of my application attracted the colleges I applied to, it would probably be leadership aspects and any extracurriculars I took a leadership position in.”

Because leadership can be a very loose term to describe even the least demanding roles, it is important to portray your leadership roles as extensions of what your passions are and to develop your leadership role to have an impact on your community or other people.

Regarding how colleges view leadership, Troyer said, “One key thing for college applications is showing passion and that you are genuinely committed to the focus of your application. Whatever that focus could be, try to think of it as marketing yourself to colleges wondering how you would improve their community.”

Because the stay-at-home order has prevented and canceled a lot of possible extracurriculars, now is a better time than ever to create your own organization, club, or passion project. By taking the initiative to forge something of your own, you are exhibiting to colleges that you possess the ability to take on responsibility outside of just schoolwork and sports.

Julain Ha said, “Quarantine has limited everyone in what extracurriculars or opportunities they can join. So, I recommend taking a leadership role and starting and founding something that you are passionate about. Take initiative. Showing initiative will help in all walks of life, especially in your application because no college admissions want to see someone who is complacent, passive, or following the herd. You don’t have to start something but show you are making an effort to expand on what you're passionate about.”

Although in many aspects limiting many extracurricular opportunities, the pandemic has also created more options for volunteering virtually. Talking from my own experience, I was able to create a nonprofit organization through Loyola that partnered with middle schools around the Los Angeles area to teach middle school students how to create their own website. The organization, from the actual workshop to recruiting tutors, was all done virtually without any in-person meetings or physical involvement. By using the time that would have otherwise been spent commuting to school or going out, I recommend utilizing this newfound time to create passion projects that you would not have been able to make with your normal schedule.

Final Thoughts

With the pandemic causing a lot to be speculated about the college process, all anyone can really do is assume the reasons and actions that lead to getting into a top college. However, by talking to Jesse, Julian, other college applicants, and counselors, a culmination of all the previously mentioned elements form a competitive application that increases your chances of being accepted to a top university.