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When considering the many applications they receive, colleges are looking for clever, diligent, ambitious, and passionate students. As a member of the IB community, you are likely aware that many young people fit these criteria. Yet it is also important to remember that universities are looking for students who are applying to them specifically for their programs because it would be an excellent fit for their goals. Top schools invest a lot of time and resources in crafting their course selection, and they are excited and motivated to see aspiring, eager minds take advantage of what they offer.

So, how do you make it clear to schools that you are this person, and what can you do to help get an edge on the thousands of other applicants for your 2023 university application?

Overall, being proactive in achieving your personal goals and improving your subject-related experience is wise. That might sound daunting, but there are a few simple things you can get started on right now that might be just the thing you need to stand out. 

Research the courses you intend to apply to

Research is a vital part of the process if you want to stand out to university admissions departments. Each university crafts its programs differently according to the professors currently teaching, the school’s history, and its future goals. As courses vary widely with regard to content and modules, you need to tailor each application to provide a direct answer as to why you are best placed to study there.

In addition, be aware that if you are applying to schools outside your home country, you might need to meet specific requirements or rules for international students. Read the information on the university`s website carefully and note that you might need to have documents translated into the official language of the respective country and legally authenticated by a competent authority.

If you are still looking for the information you need, contact the admissions department to learn more. These folks are happy to help and can guide you in the right direction regarding relevant contacts. You can also reach out directly to your department of interest if there is a specific question you would like the answer to. 

Reach for some recently published reading material about your chosen subject

Got some downtime in the weeks to come? Get cozy with a cup of tea and prepare to read, read, read. For 2023 university applications, college representatives across the board agree that applicants must demonstrate engagement with their interests to stand out from the crowd. We do not suggest you complete the whole reading list in advance, but it is wise to take a look at the reading lists of the courses you are interested in, pick a couple of books that you genuinely could see yourself enjoying, and invest some time wrestling with them on your own time. 

It is no secret that universities are looking for students who love to learn, so showing this level of initiative will help you stand out. As such, when writing your application essay, be bold and reference some books you have read and how they have made you more eager to study your field of interest. In addition to a keen desire to learn, this also lets universities know that you have plenty of aspiration and confidence to go along with it.

Make a plan to get some course-related volunteer or work experience

If you think you have missed the timeframe to take advantage of this opportunity, you might do well to think again. Even a short period of undertaking work or volunteer experience can be an invaluable asset in applications. The main reason is that academic studies cannot capture the type of knowledge that comes from being exposed to the mindset of a particular situation. 

This unique experience can only be acquired by spending time in such an environment and understanding the challenges that this presents. Tapping into the resources offered through your school`s CAS program is a good place to start if you would like to get in touch with local companies or organizations to learn about the types of programs they offer for students. Even spending a couple of afternoons observing or taking a tour can provide some kernels of insight that will help you improve your application. 

Vet your list of extracurricular activities

Chances are that you have discovered a thing or two you are passionate about throughout your high school experience. Whether writing, music, sports, theatre, community action, or politics, having a niche you feel at home in is a great thing. That said, it is necessary to be mindful of not letting this one sphere of interest dictate the whole tone of your 2023 university application. Schools are looking for students who are adaptable, well-rounded, and eager to be exposed to new things

To highlight your many talents, spend some time reviewing the full scope of extracurricular activities or actions in which you have participated. Then, consider how you can present them to illustrate the greatest depth of experience. Of course, make a point to emphasize what you are genuinely most interested in. Just do not let it overwhelm everything else. Diversifying your resume will help you stand out from your peers.

Spend some time generating creative ideas for your college essay

Going beyond the norm in your college essay is the best way to capture the admissions committee’s attention. If you have some time to sit down for a little creative brainstorming in the weeks to come, use it to start formulating some ideas for your essay without the stress of a looming deadline hampering your capacity for imagination.

Consider what comes most naturally to you as a subject and what you can offer some unique insight on, rather than choosing the topic that sounds most impressive. Look at your special skills, circumstances, and life experiences so far. How have these shaped you into the person you are today?

Finally, remember that in addition to an engaging topic, admissions officers also pay serious attention to the quality of the writing. Therefore, take the time to review before submission to avoid grammar or spelling mistakes.

Consider your reference list and get in touch 

Letters of recommendation are essential to most applications, as they help universities gather additional insight into what you are like. Do not rush over this component of your submission package. Instead, carefully consider who you will ask to write these recommendations and what unique insight they have about what you can bring to a university environment. 

Ideally, you want to select someone (a tutor or instructor) who has known you for several years and can speak to your growth and how you have evolved both academically and personally. 

Remember to keep things in perspective 

There is no magic formula to the perfect 2023 university application. However, researching your top choices and determining what they value most will help get you closer to acceptance, as will investing the time necessary to do yourself justice in the application submission. 

That said, the number one way to keep stress at bay and feel good about the applications you send off is to be true to yourself and honestly present your passions, ambitions, and hopes for the future. You want a school to be excited to welcome you for who you really are. Showing your real self will not only allow the admissions team to see you as sincere, authentic, and relatable, but it will also ensure you end up in a learning environment ready to embrace and support you on your unique educational journey.