The Where’s Waldo activity books by Martin Handford were popular in my house when my kids were growing up. The objective is to find Waldo, a tall slender guy who wears a red and white striped shirt and knitted cap, among the dozens of other characters on each beautifully illustrated page. At first glance several characters look a lot like Waldo, but after closer examination Waldo clearly stands out from the crowd with his distinct appearance.

Prospective college students can take a lesson from Waldo when it comes to standing out during the application process. Each year college admission counselors read thousands of applications submitted by highly qualified students with the mission of admitting students who are a good fit for their college or university. Initially, many of the prospective students look very much alike with rigorous coursework, strong grades and high test scores. Once applicants meet the academic qualifications, the admissions counselor’s focus is on building a class that is diverse in thought, talents and backgrounds. The onus is on each student to authentically distinguish him or herself from the rest of the pack, much like Waldo. Students can do this by thoughtfully highlighting their talents, interests and passions throughout the application process. Here are a few examples.

  • Write a unique, authentic main essay. Tell a personal story in a way that only the student can can.
  • Write thoughtful supplemental essays. Often students rush through the school specific, supplemental essays. That’s a big mistake and a missed opportunity. Here’s another chance to tell the school who the student is and what is important to him or her.
  • Highlight activities, jobs and leadership roles that are meaningful When writing an activity resume students should not simply list activities and leadership roles, but rather describe his or her contributions and responsibilities in detail.
  • Thoughtfully select recommenders The best recommenders know how the student handles adversity, contributes in a group setting and can speak about the student’s character.
  • Take advantage of interview opportunities Interviews are a great way for students to get to know the school and the school to get to know them.
  • Prepare a portfolio, audio disc or video Talented artists, photographers, musicians or thespians should showcase their talents. This is not limited to those who want to major in the arts.
  • ZeeMee is an online resume of sorts This platform works best when students make the most of its multi-media format and present themselves and their achievements in a genuine way.


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Take a Lesson from Where’s Waldo
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