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Karina Melnik
Karina Melnik Founder and CEO, Gifts of Awesome
over 1 year Story
How to Dominate College Applications like a Mogul

Being a recent survivor of the college application season, I've compiled a few unconventional tips and tricks for the eager High Schooler that have helped me and can help you to stand out to admissions officers!

Call and speak to specific department leads.

Many institutions track your engagement with school admissions offices and the school as a whole. Why? Because they want to be able to predict which students are actually going to attend the school post-admissions. Selecting students that are likely to attend the institution will enable it to have a higher "retention rate" which is one of the factors that places schools on top ranks such as the US News and World Report. Unfortunately, many colleges reject highly qualified applications on the basis that they have not shown significant interest in the school and are seemingly less likely to attend. Therefore, the BEST way to demonstrate your interest is simple. If you want to studying Political Science in college, send an email and pay a call to the director of the Political Science department at your dream (or not dream) school. Ask questions about the curriculum, professional network, or whatever you are interested in. Not only with help you to gain more information about the program (which you could incorporate into your college-specific application essays) but will also signal to the department head and admissions officers that you are seriously considering studying at the school and that you are one confident gal!

Create business cards and hand them out to admissions officers.

Now, there is a wrong way to do this. I was once at a college fair in Boston and I witnessed a girl slip her business cards into the hands of admissions officers without speaking to them, and subsequently exit the booth like she was some sort of mafioso. The funniest part is that the admissions officer bore no hesitation in chucking her business cards into the garbage as soon as she left. The correct use of business cards is an art. You have to make an impression by speaking to the admissions officer and sharing your passions as well as goals in attending the college that they are representing. ONLY AFTER YOU'VE HAD THIS CONVERSATION can you give them your contact information via business card and ask them for theirs. I like to put a condensed version of my resume on my business cards so that admissions officers can get a better picture of what I do outside of school. Sharing your business cards with admissions officers shows that you are professional and enables you to stand out of the crowd which in turn makes you more memorable as an applicant.

As a cherry on top, you can send the admissions officer a follow-up email thanking them for their assistance and support whilst highlighting the topics that you discussed earlier. Funny story: an admissions officer for the University of Chicago actually attached the emails that I had send to her to my application as examples of my character and interest in the school. Who knew that simple emails could become an essential part of a college application?

Never diminish yourself.

The topic of interview style is highly subjective, and I recommend for you to exude your own self rather than a constructed persona that you feel you should be. However, if you'd like to improve your interview skills, perhaps my #1 rule in nailing interview can help: NEVER DIMINISH YOURSELF. I'm serious. I learned this lesson the hard way during my first interview when I felt that I was overwhelming the interviews with my passion and accomplishments. Feeling as if I was being too "show-offy," I began to severely diminish my accomplishments. For example, I started calling the cajon, an instrument that I play "just a box." (Which it sort of is, but the interviewers don't need to know that. ;) ) I started highlighting my imperfections which is something you can do with a friend, but NEVER with an interviewer. Instead, think of it this way: know that everything that you do is AWESOME and you must find ways to make even your most menial of tasks sound incredibly valuable and insightful.

If you're afraid of coming off as pretentious, my go-to has always been to slip in a few jokes here and there to lighten the mood and show a little bit of pure, lighthearted humanity.

Take care of yourself.

I might even go so far to say that this tip is the most important one in my spiel. Being frazzled, insecure, extremely tired, and depressed will not help you to come off as self-assured in your interview and certainly not in your essays. So, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Watch that movie you've been wanting to watch for a while. Hit the gym after school to get some blood pumping. Write in your diary. Do something for yourself and only yourself that you find comfort and peace in doing. The self-love that you develop through forcing yourself to relax and focus on yourself will reflect in every part of your application package including recommendation letters and essays.

Well, that's it my friends! I know that the college application process can be very stressful but remember that the college(s) that you get accepted to you will not dictate your success in life. So don't worry if you don't get the results that you wished for; all that matters is that you've done your best and have learned more about yourself throughout the application process. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions, and I wish you all the best on your college application journey!

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Karina Melnik
Founder and CEO, Gifts of Awesome

Karina Melnik is the Founder and CEO of Gifts of Awesome, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging students to identify an issue they feel passionate in the world, and proceed to make a positive impact towards bringing about a solution. (

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