Three ways to prepare for a good college application

Three ways to prepare for a good college application

Three ways to prepare for a good college application

Admission to college is both highly competitive and an important financial decision for teens and their families. While getting into and graduating from a good college doesn't necessarily guarantee success in life, it usually is a significant stepping stone to securing a fruitful future. 


As a public speaker, Amino Labs CEO and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Julie Legault, gives many talks to secondary school students in high schools, after-school clubs, and STEM education groups. One common message Julie delivers is that to get into a good college, one has to be unique and stand out in the crowd. Often good grades and volunteering are the main focus of college applicants, and while these are important, EVERYONE DOES THIS! Colleges get thousands of applicants who have all worked hard at their grades and standardized exams and who try to contribute to society through volunteering. So you have to ask yourself: What makes you unique? How can you stand out from the thousands of others that get good grades and volunteer? 


Amino Labs co-founder and graduate of the University of Cambridge, Justin Pahara, echo's this advice. Since another aspect of college applications is getting scholarships to help cover the costs, standing out in the applications pile can be crucial. Many prospective students are applying for scholarships every year, and most will also have excellent grades and volunteer, so how can your application stand out? 


Don't just have ideas; build them. 

Society tends to over-value ideas. You've probably heard the phrase million dollar idea thrown around more than once! In reality, ideas are more likely to be a dime a dozen, and most new ideas have already been thought of by others. A great way to stand out is by doing the work required to turn ideas into something tangible. If you're a 'builder,' once you have an idea, you can take the seemingly impossible step to make it real. You'll have to de-risk the idea, gain new skills to make it real, and test it out in the world. It is taking the seemingly impossible task of making an idea tangible that 99% of other college applicants don't do. Turning an idea into reality demonstrates technical skills, focus, and perseverance. Colleges (and employers!) look for this combination of attributes in their applicants and don't find it often enough.

So one way to stand out in college applications is to talk about your work as a builder. Demonstrate your skills, perseverance, and focus through projects you have completed. Use these experiences to show how they have changed your perspective on the world or made it better.

So, what skills should you learn, and what ideas should you build? Of course, Amino Labs strongly supports building with biology (biotechnology) as a way to stand out (more on that below). Yet, many skills will contribute to building out your ideas, and you'll know more once you decide what to build. Skills like software, electronics, computer-aided design and fabrication, writing, designing, and entrepreneurship may be needed. Your perseverance in learning what you need will impress the admissions teams! Since you will be building out your idea for some time, the best idea to pick is one you believe in (and if you need some help brainstorming, have a look at our Biotechnology Science Fair Project Ideas post)



Plan well ahead

When thinking about being an idea builder, it is important to know that it can take years to learn and apply the fundamentals of new skills. And this is part of what makes it so valuable in setting yourself apart! For example, many Amino Labs Genetic Engineering Heroes started learning biotechnology between ages 12-14 and continued with it until college and beyond. Over several years of home projects, science fair projects, and school work, Heroes are able to demonstrate a depth of knowledge, novel skills, and perseverance in college applications to set themselves apart from the crowd. To date, Amino Labs Heroes have earned more than $100,000 in scholarships (that we know of), using their biotechnology know-how to wow!

Because learning biotechnology is usually done in university, it is very rare for a teen to learn the skills and fundamentals of biotechnology BEFORE university. While some high schools offer life science lab opportunities, students rarely get the training and time to build anything. In the context of college applications, this can be a lucky break since it makes building with biotechnology an innovative skill to demonstrate uniqueness in college applications.

While Amino Labs is a big fan of making with biology, you may also be interested in other subjects such as software development, electronics, or fabrication. These are also great application boosters when applied to projects. The takeaway here is that planning ahead and dedicating time and perseverance to the subject(s) will enable your teen to demonstrate depth in college applications.

Of course, you may not have years left until college applications are due. While last-minute "application padding" can be obvious, it's never too late (or too early) to get started! 



Demonstrate your uniqueness with a well-rounded and organized portfolio

As part of planning ahead and being an idea builder, you have to be sure to document and organize your work so that you can present it. A great way to do this is by building a portfolio of your projects. A portfolio is a tool artists and designers use to showcase the work they have built. But in general academic and STEM fields, it is still uncommon to see students have portfolios of the work they have built.

It won't surprise you to learn that websites are a convenient way to create your portfolio. Your portfolio can showcase one or more projects, documenting the journey from idea to tangible finish with photographs, videos, and text. In addition, you can also showcase other interests and hobbies in your portfolio. Your hard work and unique profile can now be easily shared with a link!



Bonus tip for success: Be a good human being! 

Are you a joy to work with? Are you always right? Are you accepting of new ideas? Do you always have the right answer? Are you flexible in your world perspective? Can you admit when you’re wrong? Do you give credit where credit is due? Do you try to gain credit when you don’t fully deserve it? 

Life is hard and while the fierce competition to get into a good college can leave you scraping for every bit of whipped cream and the cherry to put on top of your college application, there is more than the hard skills and tangible outcomes. 

As we grow up sometimes we form rigid idea of who we are and what is right and what is wrong. Open-mindedness and giving credit where credit is due are two key attributes that make prospective students attractive to colleges and universities. These attributes directly correlate to the innovative and collaborative mindset in post-secondary schooling.



When it comes time for college and scholarship applications, it is critical for you to stand out from the thousands of other VERY SMART and DRIVEN teenagers that are also applying. Good grades and volunteering are important but may not be enough for all colleges and scholarships. You need to be innovative and a step ahead of the rest: You need to planbuilddemonstrate, and communicate your amazing and innovative experiences, which will differentiate you from 99% of other college and scholarship applicants. Good luck!


Check out our other short blog, “Admissions Tips from an Expert, with some college admissions tips from an admissions expert at M.I.T.