What Matters on the College Application

Also in: 简中 (Simplified Chinese) 繁中 (Traditional Chinese)

To many, college application is not so different from a massive puzzle: you kind of know how it works and have all the pieces you need but you’re never entirely sure. The process seems to take more than weeks, if not months, but it’s something inevitable for most high schoolers.

What Really Matters

On average, every school receives tens of thousands of applications from around the world. Therefore, distinguishing yourself from this large pool of applicants, whose academic performance may be rather similar, becomes the most important task. The single most important question to as yourself is: What is your personal narrative? That is, What makes you special? What makes you interesting? and ultimately, Why should [school name] accept you?

The application is often overlooked because many students put too much emphasis on either improving their test scores and boosting their GPA’s, or committing too much time to seemingly meaningful activities that are later proved otherwise. Your personal narrative is something admissions officers will remember about you after glancing over dozens of applications every day, and there are specific elements that can help strengthen your case.

Tell A (Fun) Story

First, facts and bullet points are for a presentation, not an application. Your personal narrative is a story, a story full of vivid images you try to paint throughout your application either with unique experiences and special achievements, or family background and supplement essays. For instance, many of us are funny or have a playful character, but how well can you incorporate this fact about you into your application? At the same time, maybe you’ve developed a strong passion in advertising and marketing, and would like to continue to learn more about start-ups—how are you going to showcase this interest in your application? You’re not the best pianist, but have certainly learned a lot about work ethics and overcoming obstacles as a musician—what has playing the piano taught you and why is it so special? Put these pieces together and tell a story, repeatedly, and make the admissions committee remember you.

Finding That One Thing

Next, find your “spike,” your “pin,” you “hook,” or whatever you want to call it. Find the one thing that makes you unforgettable, and highlight it. While your story may consist of various pieces, there must be a spike about this story.

Think about your time in middle school: it’s almost impossible to forget the day of your graduation, while hundreds of other days went by like it never happened. Maybe it’s the speaker, the activities before and after graduation, and/or the time spent sitting with your classmates in caps and gowns. Out of the 1,000+ days, there’s something to be remembered about the graduation day, prom night, your first basketball game, getting your first bad grade, etc. Create that spike in your application; it could be an award, a project you worked on, a trip to a foreign land, a community service opportunity, or a lesson you learned after watching a movie, making a mistake, or speaking with a respected elder. You must not only tell an interesting story, but also create the unforgettable spike. that is the backbone of your personal narrative.

Also in: 简中 (Simplified Chinese) 繁中 (Traditional Chinese)

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