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Introverted? How to Make Your College Application Shine

While leadership roles and extracurriculars are a big part of college applications, experts say you don't have to be an extrovert to stand out.
Rutgers University Annual Career Fair
Students, graduates and adults seeking job opportunities gather around tables of corporations and government offices during a job fair at Rutgers University on January 4, 2006 in New Brunswick, New Jersey.Getty Images

With space to fill out to boast about leadership roles, clubs, and other extracurricular activities, college applications may seem like they favor extroverted students.

But experts say you don't have to be the type of person who thrives in group settings to have a solid application. There are many ways for introverted high school students to stand out.

“Introverts really have the opportunity to shine in the admission process, since they often know themselves extremely well,” Lauren Sefton, associate director of admissions at Rhodes College in Memphis, told NBC News.

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Being introspective can be particularly useful when it comes to the college essay, added Seth Allen, Pomona College vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid.

“Introverted applicants can showcase their deep or divergent thinking through the essays, helping to three-dimension themselves and pique the interest of their readers,” he said.

Some aspects of the admissions process, such as college fairs or interviews, can pose challenges for more introverted students. But the admissions officers say there are workarounds.

If college fairs are overwhelming, check to see if the college offers the opportunity for one-on-one meetings via Skype or in person, Sefton said.

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“Think ahead of time of a list of questions, and bring that list with you,” she said. “If it makes you feel more comfortable, have a written resume with you to talk about as well.”

Sefton’s colleague at Rhodes, associate director of admissions Megan Starling, told NBC News that when introverted applicants make campus visits or even visit the schools’ websites, they should try to make a connection with someone on campus who represents an area of genuine interest for them.

“Maybe you are not comfortable making small talk with an admission counselor or random student tour guide, but even introverts enjoy dialogue about a topic of interest,” she said. “If you love a certain subject, request to meet with a professor. If you love riding horses, reach out to a member of the equestrian program.”

Many times, Starling said, this connection, even outside of the admission office, can then serve as an advocate for students in the admission decision.

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Students can make the same kind of connections in their high schools. “I tell these students to seek out the teachers who ‘get them,’” said college counselor and founder of Admissions Revolution Sara Harberson.

“The teachers who connect with these students know that they are not just quiet observers, and when it comes time to write a recommendation letter, these teachers will be able to transcend the ‘quiet’ designation.”

Pomona’s Allen said all applicants need to keep in mind that regardless of their level of extroversion or not, admissions committees look for students who will engage in pursuits that “add to the vibrancy and breadth of student activity on campus and in the classroom.” When assessing what kind of impact students could make in their campus classrooms, Allen said, introverts are at no disadvantage.

“While introverts may not speak up as much in class as extroverts, they can make oversized contributions when they choose to share their analysis or knowledge with the rest of the class,” he said, adding that because introverts get their energy from solitary pursuits, they often bring a perspective to the class that expands beyond the syllabus.

That can help on a college application, too, when introverts are competing with team captains, debate heads, and student government presidents for an admissions spot.

“Most applicant pools will have hundreds, if not thousands, of such applicants,” he said. “But how many will have antique bottle collectors or patent holders or a recognized authority on David Foster Wallace?”

What’s important, Allen said, is that introverts not try to make themselves seem like everyone else applying and instead “play to the strengths, interests, or talents that their introverted tendencies have gifted them.”