Application Personas: How Top Colleges Find the Best Students
January 22, 2024
Applying to top colleges is a competitive process where hundreds of students all vie for a single spot in a school's pool of admitted applicants, and understanding how admissions officers make these decisions can give students the edge they need to get into their dream school.
One concept that is often overlooked but plays a crucial role in the admissions process is the "Application Persona."
What is an Application Persona?
An Application Persona is the common thread through all the materials in the application—a combination of the student's unique traits, achievements, and overall "theme" as a person. It's a holistic view of the student that goes beyond grades and test scores. It includes their interests, experiences, goals, and the unique perspective they bring. And generally, the more diverse and memorable an applicant's persona is, the better chance they have at getting accepted.
Why is it Important?
An application persona creates a clear image of a student and their candidacy at a given institution. It will be the first aspect that comes to mind when an admissions officer is thinking back through all the applications they’ve reviewed. It’s important to make a strong impression so that when it comes time for review, your student’s application will be the one on their mind.
During the admissions committee, where officers discuss which students to accept, having a solid and distinct Application Persona that sticks in the Admissions Officers’ memory can be the difference between getting that acceptance letter or being passed over.
How to Build a Strong Application Persona
A solid application persona goes hand-in-hand with building one's candidacy and becoming the ideal applicant for a particular school.
Many aspects can make up a successful persona, but here are a few key elements that most successful personas have.
The most effective personas can be described in a quick phrase—not a single word nor a lengthy paragraph. They should be swift, decisive, and stick out in one's memory. Admissions officers have limited time to view hundreds of applicants. Sometimes, students will have only 12 minutes to make an impression with their application. So, making the most significant impact with the least context is ideal.
Some examples may be:
- "A civically engaged student committed to public service and political action for community equity."
- "A tech enthusiast focused on civil engineering for inland salmon fishing farms."
- "A social activist and founder of several local organizations aiding in supporting women's issues and the unhoused population."
Memorability is what sets apart an average application from an outstanding one. Admissions officers review numerous applications, and being the one student they remember among hundreds of others is a significant advantage that will make a difference when it comes time for committee.
Take the previous example of a "tech enthusiast focusing on civil engineering for inland salmon fishing farms." This persona strategically combines the student's passion for technology with the unique combination of industry and sector to create a memorable image that has a greater chance of sticking with an admissions officer.
Good application personas will have a similar level of specificity and uniqueness that sets one apart from the other students.
But being simple and memorable isn't enough the majority of the time. The ideal students will have many experiences and accolades to show off to college admissions officers, and the ideal candidate will have a persona that shows off those accomplishments.
In our third example, "a social activist and founder of several local organizations aiding in support of women's issues and the unhoused population," the candidate's achievements and activities are part of their persona. This is the strategic element, where the strength of one's character—leadership qualities, ambitions, and accomplishments—is a core part of their theme.
In this example, the student's achievements are a vital component of their persona, and their success and ingenuity will be one of the first things that come to mind when recalled by the admissions officer.
The final key aspect regarding a candidate's viability is whether the candidate will be a good fit for the student body.
Admissions officers aren't just choosing the applicants they believe are the best. They select to create the best class. The top Ivy League schools are most concerned with building an excellent, robust student body filled with scholars that will add to the institution's culture and reputation. The quality of character admissions officers want for their students may change with the times. Still, the top schools are always looking for students to display leadership qualities, resolve, and tenacity in their careers and extracurricular activities.
For the previously listed examples, each persona displays industriousness differently, and whether or not they will be a good fit depends on the school and the opinion of those admissions officers. So, it is pivotal to make a strong impression on those officers so that they can envision a student thriving on their campus—whether that be academically, socially, or through clubs and programs.
For a deeper dive into application personas, with more examples and details, see our blog on The Application Persona: 8 Examples and How They Are Effective.
How to Craft a Unique Persona
The application persona is a vital yet often overlooked part of college admissions that makes a big impact on a student’s chances of acceptance. Students that are likely to get admitted into their top college often have applications with a persona that is simple and memorable yet also highlights their strongest attributes and why they would be a good fit for that school.
Throughout a student’s time in high school, it is ideal to build candidacy and craft a compelling application persona over a long time. The best application Personas are a combination of simplicity, memorability, strategy, and forward-thinking, as well as uniqueness, creativity, and authenticity.
Whether or not your student’s application displays these characteristics may very well be the deciding factor between acceptance and looking for a different school.
At InGenius Prep, we aim to give applicants the best chance of getting accepted into their top-choice college. Our team of former admissions officers is ready to coach you on the best course of action with insider knowledge to turn students into the ideal candidates for their university.