Fluency in Arabic is one example. Joie Jager-Hyman, founder and president of CollegePrep360, said some colleges with programs in international relations are interested in students who can speak that language.
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Lesser known sports may also give students—particularly female students—an edge, depending on the college's team offerings. Chris Krause, founder of National College Scouting Association Athletic Recruiting, known as NCSA, said when a college adds a football team, it often has to add women's teams to comply with federal regulations requiring equal access to sports for men and women.
And at least one college is interested in drawing video gamers to campus. Robert Morse University earlier this year designated video gaming a sport, meaning students can win scholarships to play "League of Legends."
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Sally Rubenstone, a former admissions officer at Smith who is currently a senior advisor to College Confidential, said activities outside of school will often catch an admissions officer's eye. An application may stand out more if a student interested in community service serves on a local school board or other community committee, or if a teen actor joins a local theater company in addition to performing at school.
"Model U.N., mock trial, literary magazine, band—you can get pretty jaded by the time you are on application 47," she said. "How many times do you want to see mock trial?"
A paid job is also a plus on an application, Rubenstone said, "and frankly, the crappier the job, the better." She would be less interested, she said, in the student who worked in mom or dad's law office than the lawyer's child with a job at Target.
"It's kind of a no-lose proposition," she said. "If a student comes from a disadvantaged family, the admission folks like to see that the kid is chipping in. If a student comes from a more well-heeled family and is still having some of that real-world experience working in Taco Bell, that's a plus, too."
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Sometimes a student fails to convey what Rubenstone calls hidden extracurriculars, the things they do in their free time that show special talents or passions. An admissions officer's interest may be piqued at the news that someone rebuilt a car for fun or read all 35 of her favorite author's books.