The academic side of the admissions equation is pretty straightforward—GPAs, AP scores and standardized test scores. Many college applicants will be qualified on the basis of meeting academic prerequisites.

So, what’s the difference that makes the difference in setting a high school student apart in their college admission application? According to many college admissions officers, the difference is passion and authenticity, two qualities we focus on with our middle school and high school students at SuperCamp.

To many colleges, a passionate student is someone who is motivated, engaged, and intellectually curious about something. Today, it’s less about showing how well-rounded you are and more about demonstrating that you’ve developed a passionate, in-depth interest in something beyond the classroom.

Being able to clearly communicate your passion in your college essay requires strong writing skills and authenticity. Repeatedly writing “I am passionate about [your interest] …” is not the answer. Admissions officers want to see a sustained, progressive involvement over a period of time in one or two activities. One director of admissions explains that she can tell when a student tries to fake passion. When a college admissions officer reads a thousand or so applications a year, they can quickly recognize those that are genuine and authentic.

What if a teen isn’t deeply passionate about something outside of school? It’s okay, say some admissions officers, as long as the applicant is authentic, so the admissions committee gets a strong sense of who the teenager is. Ultimately, that’s really what colleges look for. If the student can genuinely explain in their essay what they’ve learned by exploring multiple interests or activities, admissions officers will be able to assess their intellectual curiosity.

Authenticity for students begins with being self-aware—knowing who you are, understanding what you value and finding your own voice. Once a student becomes self-aware, they’re better able to use their authentic voice in their college essay. For example, if you’re a funny person, be funny. If you’re more serious, write your essay with a serious voice. And whatever voice you use, write clearly in a way that offers insight into your character and personality. As one admissions officer says, “Be the best person, not the best candidate.”

Being the best person and becoming self-aware align with SuperCamp’s message to students to “Be your best self.” We explain to students that goals help move us forward to being our best self. It begins by being clear and specific about what we want. Many students at SuperCamp identify getting into college as their big goal, which gives great focus to much of the learning that occurs during camp, starting with the 8 Keys of Excellence.

A few of the 8 Keys stand out for students as they relate to pursuing and achieving their goals—Failure Leads to Success, Commitment and This Is It! (making the most of every moment), in particular.

The Commitment Key is also a big component in helping students understand the concept of being passionate. We explain that Commitment is about making your dreams happen, taking positive action and following your vision without wavering.

Students also learn what it means to live in authenticity and some of the ways that will help them do so. Again, it starts with the 8 Keys of Excellence, in this case the Key of Integrity—matching behavior with values, being sincere and real. We also share the concept of Fimage (Fear of Image), which holds us back from being the person we want to be and doing the things that feel right for us. Students discover that the more they choose to let go of Fimage and not worry about what others think, the more they can show who they truly are and the more they will learn and grow.

The greater understanding that students who attend SuperCamp gain about passion and authenticity, the better positioned they are to pursue their goal of getting into college by setting themselves apart in a genuine way in life—and in their college essay.