Five unconventional ways to stand out

It’s hard to stand out in any arena doing the same things everyone else is doing. Here are five underutilized ways of standing out to colleges.

1. Learn something.
Learning isn’t limited to your school, or to academic material. Colleges, extension programs, and community centers offer classes in everything from scrapbooking to hip-hop. Books, videos, blogs—there are more places than ever before to learn whatever interests you, often on the cheap and even for free. Actively exploring—and expanding—your interests is a great way to show colleges that you love to learn and can take advantage of opportunities to do so.

2. Teach something.
Everyone is good at something that’s teachable. And like the opportunities to learn, the subjects to teach and the vehicles to do so are more varied than ever before. Offer up your particular expertise at a local community center. Create the go-to YouTube channel for people looking to learn to jazz trumpet. Write a blog on how to build websites, where to find good live bands in town, or how teens can conquer anxiety without prescription drugs. The reach of the internet means that your audience isn’t limited to your geographical location. And if you can really teach someone how to do something, chances are that someone out there in the world will find and appreciate it.

3. Share something.
Offer your basketball skills as a coach for a local youth team. Make videos for a local non-profit. One former Collegewise student who spent her Saturdays volunteering at a homeless shelter also loved photography. During her breaks, she offered to take photos of any families who wanted them, then developed and shared them with the subjects. Many of those families mentioned to her that her photos were the only family photos they owned. If you need a little more inspiration, check out how entrepreneur Derek Sivers shared his way to success using what he called the co-op business model.

4. Change something.
Does something in your club, school, or community need changing, fixing, improving? What if you did the work to make it happen? A small project might be done on your own. But a larger project might require that you recruit and lead other people who agree with you. Whether you pick up trash at the local park, paint the walls at your school, or start an informal support group for students who share the same struggle, colleges—and the world in general—are always looking for people who can make positive change happen.

5. Do something.
Have an idea that doesn’t fit neatly into one of the above categories? Go for it. Ideas are easy. And they’re just a starting point. It’s the doing that’s the hard part. Yes, planning can be important. And the more people you involve, the more important it will be to make promises you can keep. But working like crazy to do something worth doing will always earn you more credit, whether or not it actually works, than not doing anything at all. Find a way to move that idea from something you’re thinking about to something you actually do.