College Application Process: 5 Lessons Learned

The Washington Post: “Katie Miller recently graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Md., and is very relieved to be finished with the painful process of applying to colleges.” Here are some of the lessons she learned along the way:

“1. Be prepared for disappointment. Nothing truly readies you for the feeling of defeat that comes with opening a letter of denial.”

“2. Accept that aspects of this arduous process will simply be inexplicable … While some websites claim they can tell students which elements of the application different schools value, maybe it depends on factors as arbitrary as who sits down to read the essay.”

“3. Even when you think you have done everything right, you’ve probably gotten something wrong … Overlooking wrongly labeled classes and failing to double-check them with my counselor put me at a disadvantage … You will never get full disclosure from a university admissions office, but by calling and asking why I was denied, I learned that my mistakes led the office of undergraduate admissions to believe that I had dropped AP and honors-level courses.”

“4. There is a time and place for modesty and the college application process is not it … Especially today, as colleges’ standards continue to raise, it’s vital to take advantage of all accomplishments, because there are probably a thousand other kids with the same ones.”

“5. Give serious consideration to all the schools on your list, because your final choice may surprise you … I have realized that the college experience has less to do with the school name, location and reputation, and more to do with what you accomplish there.”

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When The Applicant is an Introvert

NBC News: “With space to fill out to boast about leadership roles, clubs, and other extracurricular activities, college applications may seem like they favor extroverted students.But experts say you don’t have to be the type of person who thrives in group settings to have a solid application. There are many ways for introverted high school students to stand out.” Laura Sefton of Rhodes College comments: “Introverts really have the opportunity to shine in the admission process, since they often know themselves extremely well.”

“Being introspective can be particularly useful when it comes to the college essay.” Seth Allen of Pomona College comments: “Introverted applicants can showcase their deep or divergent thinking through the essays, helping to three-dimension themselves and pique the interest of their readers.”

“When assessing what kind of impact students could make in their campus classrooms, Allen said, introverts are at no disadvantage … because introverts get their energy from solitary pursuits, they often bring a perspective to the class that expands beyond the syllabus. That can help on a college application, too, when introverts are competing with team captains, debate heads, and student government presidents for an admissions spot.”

“What’s important, Allen said, is that introverts not try to make themselves seem like everyone else applying and instead ‘play to the strengths, interests, or talents that their introverted tendencies have gifted them’.”

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‘Money’ Is Frequent Topic of College Essays

The New York Times: “For more students than you might think, writing about money is how they seek to stand out. Of the 4,809 complete personal statements in the database at AdmitSee, a service that allows people to make money by renting access to their own essays and applications, 5 percent are about overcoming financial obstacles. A further 20 percent used words like ‘tuition,’ ‘loan’ and ‘income’ in essays about career aspirations, diversity and family background.”

Each year, Ron Lieber of The Times issues “an open call for college applicants to send in essays about money, work, social class and related issues that they’ve submitted to undergraduate admissions offices.” Of the 231 essays received, the newspaper published the four rated as the best. You can read them here.

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Clichés To Avoid In Your College Essay

Quartz: “Of the thousands of gushing essays from eager students that wash across their desks each year, a great number are virtually the same. Per the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) … far too many teenagers’ personal statements begin with ‘hackneyed phrases.’ UCAS looked at submissions from 700,000 students who applied to British schools in the past year and found several opening lines being used again and again, which suggests that the subject matter is often drearily similar, too.”

Among the most frequently repeated phrases:

“From a young age, I have been interested in/fascinated by…”
“I am applying for this course because…”
“Reflecting on my educational experiences…”
“Academically, I have always been…”

“Nelson Mandela can take credit for the eleventh most repeated opening line: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ The quote was used by 148 of the applicants in the study.”

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Costco & The Art of the College Essay

Business Insider: Brittany Stinson, a Delaware high-school senior who was accepted at five Ivy League universities as well as Stanford, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, NYU and BU, says she’s “a shy person.” Yes, she has a 4.9 GPA (weighted), speaks fluent Portuguese, and has presented research at MIT. She also wrote a great essay, with a surprising focus: Costco. It’s well worth reading, and proof positive that ostensibly ordinary life experiences can be turned into extraordinary college admissions essays:

Prompt 1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Managing to break free from my mother’s grasp, I charged. With arms flailing and chubby legs fluttering beneath me, I was the ferocious two­ year old rampaging through Costco on a Saturday morning. My mother’s eyes widened in horror as I jettisoned my churro; the cinnamon­sugar rocket gracefully sliced its way through the air while I continued my spree. I sprinted through the aisles, looking up in awe at the massive bulk products that towered over me. Overcome with wonder, I wanted to touch and taste, to stick my head into industrial­sized freezers, to explore every crevice. I was a conquistador, but rather than searching the land for El Dorado, I scoured aisles for free samples. Before inevitably being whisked away into a shopping cart, I scaled a mountain of plush toys and surveyed the expanse that lay before me: the kingdom of Costco.

Notorious for its oversized portions and dollar­fifty hot dog combo, Costco is the apex of consumerism. From the days spent being toted around in a shopping cart to when I was finally tall enough to reach lofty sample trays, Costco has endured a steady presence throughout my life. As a veteran Costco shopper, I navigate the aisles of foodstuffs, thrusting the majority of my weight upon a generously filled shopping cart whose enormity juxtaposes my small frame. Over time, I’ve developed a habit of observing fellow patrons tote their carts piled with frozen burritos, cheese puffs, tubs of ice cream, and weight­loss supplements. Perusing the aisles gave me time to ponder. Who needs three pounds of sour cream? Was cultured yogurt any more well­mannered than its uncultured counterpart? Costco gave birth to my unfettered curiosity.

While enjoying an obligatory hot dog, I did not find myself thinking about the ‘all beef’ goodness that Costco boasted. I instead considered finitudes and infinitudes, unimagined uses for tubs of sour cream, the projectile motion of said tub when launched from an eighty foot shelf or maybe when pushed from a speedy cart by a scrawny seventeen year old. I contemplated the philosophical: If there exists a thirty­three ounce jar of Nutella, do we really have free will? I experienced a harsh physics lesson while observing a shopper who had no evident familiarity of inertia’s workings. With a cart filled to overflowing, she made her way towards the sloped exit, continuing to push and push while steadily losing control until the cart escaped her and went crashing into a concrete column, 52” plasma screen TV and all. Purchasing the yuletide hickory smoked ham inevitably led to a conversation between my father and me about Andrew Jackson’s controversiality. There was no questioning Old Hickory’s dedication; he was steadfast in his beliefs and pursuits – qualities I am compelled to admire, yet his morals were crooked. We both found the ham to be more likeable–and tender.

I adopted my exploratory skills, fine tuned by Costco, towards my intellectual endeavors. Just as I sampled buffalo­chicken dip or chocolate truffles, I probed the realms of history, dance and biology, all in pursuit of the ideal cart–one overflowing with theoretical situations and notions both silly and serious. I sampled calculus, cross­country running, scientific research, all of which are now household favorites. With cart in hand, I do what scares me; I absorb the warehouse that is the world. Whether it be through attempting aerial yoga, learning how to chart blackbody radiation using astronomical software, or dancing in front of hundreds of people, I am compelled to try any activity that interests me in the slightest.

My intense desire to know, to explore beyond the bounds of rational thought; this is what defines me. Costco fuels my insatiability and cultivates curiosity within me at a cellular level. Encoded to immerse myself in the unknown, I find it difficult to complacently accept the “what”; I want to hunt for the “whys” and dissect the “hows”. In essence, I subsist on discovery.

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