Does the college application process seem slightly terrifying to you? If so, you’re paying attention. College admission standards have become incredibly competitive in the past decade, and if your application doesn’t make the cut, you’re relegated to a Plan B, C or D school.

But if you pay as much attention to the application process as you did to your grades in the past three to four years, you’re going to do just fine. In truth, there are some secret techniques you can use to get your application to stand out amid the stack of other qualified candidates.

So, go ahead and give yourself an edge by using these 6 techniques to improve your application’s chances of standing out.

  1. Connect with the admissions department

If you really want your application to stand out, you’re going to want to tailor it to your school of choice. This means getting a good understanding of the courses offered at each school. This may seem like overkill, but it’ll give your application the extra nudge it needs.

Talk to the admissions department before you submit your application to find out a bit about the major courses you plan to take. And when you’re ready to list your skills, use a functional resume format to keep it clear and concise.

  1. Reference relevant literature

Take a look at the coursework and the recommended reading for each course. In your essay (or elsewhere), quote or reference literature that is relevant to your major or course interests. Showing that you’ve already done some of the college-level work is a great foot in the door. Think of it like name-dropping but with books.

  1. Get active in your community

You can volunteer out of the goodness of your heart or because it looks great on college applications and job resumes. Either way, the result is the same. It looks great on college applications! So, if you want your application to stand out, invest some of your time in volunteering.

Try to choose something that’s close to your area of interest, if at all possible. Maybe you can volunteer as an assistant teacher to ESL students or volunteer with your local Boys and Girls Club of America. Whatever you choose, make an effort to be consistent and active. If you can play an important role in the organization as a volunteer, that’s even more impressive.

  1. Become bilingual or multilingual

If you have a little time before you need to submit your application, consider learning a new language. The commitment to learning a new language shows your dedication to learning and your potential contribution to your school of choice.

Just be sure you have enough time to learn the language before your first interview. You don’t want to get caught with subpar skills. And, just FYI, it can take anywhere between 900 and 440 hours to learn a new language. So, it’s not exactly an overnight thing. But, if you’re committed, a new language will definitely expand your opportunities and will make traveling to certain areas or countries a new experience!

  1. Exhibit confidence

From the way you write your essay to the way you answer questions, exhibit as much confidence as you can muster. If you don’t believe in yourself, why would anyone else? And if you’re in a state of self-doubt when you write your application, it’ll come through in your application. Think about this before you sit down to complete the paperwork. And if at all possible, have someone else look it over to give you feedback on the overall tone (and to proof for any errors).

Don’t forget to carry that confidence forward to any interviews you may need to participate in. Your credentials will go a long way, but confidence takes you to the finish line. If you’re really feeling low, there are small ways to develop your confidence to a point where you’ll feel comfortable talking positively and authentically about yourself. And don’t worry, it’s okay to fake it till you make it. If

  1. Work in your desired field

If at all possible, land a job that shows you’re passionate and already learning about your desired field. And if you’re not sure what you want to major in, don’t worry. Just choose something that’s relevant to the coursework you plan to take.

If you’re interested in accounting, take an internship at an accounting firm. Or if agriculture is more your thing, consider a job at a state or national park. You can get hands on experience that will help you in your college career and beyond — and it’ll look great on your application.

If you can, you want to start thinking about your college applications a minimum of three to six months before they’re due. This way, you can dot any i’s and cross any t’s before you have to submit your application. These things definitely take time, and it’s not a good idea to rush your college application if you want to get into a decent school. College admissions has become a very competitive process and you don’t want to end up left in the dark.

Plan ahead and prepare to make yourself look awesome on any and all applications you choose to submit.