A “hook” is an important, yet often anxiety-provoking term in college admissions. Many students and families worry about what qualifies as a hook and whether they are “hooked” or “unhooked” applicants, especially compared to their peers. Certain concerns and misconceptions can arise–for instance, that if a student does not have a hook, his or her profile will be completely dismissed, or that a hook is out of a student’s control, contingent on ethnicity or other factors.
To simplify, a hook is just what it sounds like–a particularly compelling aspect of a student’s profile that “hooks” the attention of admissions officers and helps them stand out from other applicants.
In most cases, a hook typically refers to a specialized narrative or series of achievements that a student intentionally builds over the course of his or her high school career. A student’s hook could be outstanding character and exceptional contributions to a school or community. It could be participating in a prestigious summer program or completing an incredible accomplishment, such as representing the US at an International Science Olympiad, publishing a book, or landing a role on Broadway. But before you panic, for the majority of students admitted to top-tier colleges, a hook doesn’t necessarily have to be over-the-top impressive or prestigious–it simply is a well-developed record of distinctive achievements, activities, and service in one or two specific areas of interest. Often, a hook can also be a combination of all of the above factors, reflecting the unique permutation of a student’s background and life experiences, interests and talents, and accomplishments.
If you’re thinking that there is nothing that special about your life, background, or interests, you might not be sure what your hook is quite yet. The good news is that with patience, hard work, and passion, you can craft your own hook. As academic institutions that seek to enroll a well-rounded class (as opposed to well-rounded students!), colleges value diversity, and tend to hold hooks related to intellectual, creative, and communal pursuits in high esteem. They are looking for students not just with a zeal for studying and doing well in school, but who are very passionate, sometimes almost obsessive, about their selected interests and hobbies. They are looking for productivity and initiative in those areas, and evidence that students will bring what they love to campus and share their talents and projects with their college community.
To create a hook, reflect on what you like to do and go down a rabbit hole of finding ways to explore your passion from different angles. A student who loves English and creative writing might start out by founding a book club at school but continue exploring her passion for literature by attending selective summer programs, teaching poetry to students at her local library, writing a novella, pursuing publication in literary magazines, and submitting to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and essay contests. Even passions that are not as academically inclined can still be intriguing and easily become hooks. Do you love playing video games? Perhaps you could start a blog where you publish reviews of recently released games, or try coding a simple mobile game. You could intern with an educational gaming company, or host a gaming marathon-fundraiser for charitable causes. Often, it’s a great idea to incorporate service, leadership, and interdisciplinary pursuits into your activities when possible. Above all, you should prioritize staying active and committed to your passions in the ways that are most meaningful and authentic to you.
Here are some guides providing ideas for projects and activities for you to develop your hooks in all areas of interest, from founding a club to starting a business or non-profit. Keep in mind that a hook relies on multiple activities and achievements, in school and out of school, and many intermediary steps and hours of hard work are necessary to build up to impressive accolades–such as a competitive, national-level award, fellowship, or summer program. Most importantly, remember that developing a hook is a labor of love! Beyond the long-term implications for college applications, the best benefit of building and pursuing a hook is that you’ll spend time on things that you genuinely love to do, and you’ll learn about yourself and your community along the way!