What To Tell Colleges About Yourself

From the very first year that I started helping high school seniors with their applications, they have asked me about how they should respond to questions in the applications and what they should write about in their essays. The answer to those questions didn’t take long to form in my mind and it has remained the same some 14 years later. My response to those questions; “colleges don’t care what you do as long as you are doing something productive with your time.”

Apparently that response seems too simplistic and easy but if you don’t believe me, check out the article written by Brennan Barnard on Forbes.com this month. In the piece, What Matters In College Admission, Mr. Barnard explains that the important things in the student’s life are important to the admissions professionals reading their applications.

An example of what I mean is the belief by high school seniors that their essay must capture that ah-ha moment or some blinding flash of the obvious that sends their life off in a different direction. The truth of the matter is that admissions committees would rather receive a snapshot that delivered a day in the life of the applicant.

Consider what Angel Pérez, vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College says, “Authenticity counts. What most students don’t realize is that what we really want in an application is for students to share their true selves.” He explains, “My favorite essay of all time was about a student who worked at a coffee shop. He talked about the lessons he learned – and in particular, that people in the service industry are invisible to many. He shared the lesson in a beautifully written essay and it really moved me. He brought his true authentic self to the application process. I learned a lot about his character and his values. These things matter deeply to colleges.” Pérez adds, “bring your true self to the process.”

There are several more comments that support this mindset made by the people who make admissions decisions at exclusive institutions. If you won’t take my word for it, then take theirs. Everything in your essay should say, “this is me, what do you think?” Don’t worry about what someone reviewing your application wants to hear. There is no way of knowing that anyway. Give candid, honest responses that are in line with what anyone who knows you would expect. That’s all, and it really is that simple.

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