As a high school senior staring down a slew of intimidating college application forms, I remember all too well the anxiety of trying to figure out how to make my application stand out from the crowd. My fate seemed to hinge on answering just the right combination of questions and conveying just the right personality to appeal to the admission officers who would barely glance at my application before making a judgment that would profoundly impact my future. No pressure, right?
After getting through that nerve-wracking process and going on to gain more perspective from the “other side” as a college admission counselor, I’ve gathered some tips that I wish I could go back and tell my anxious 17-year-old self. If I could, here’s the advice I would give…
First, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to game the system. Be genuine rather than spewing what you think the college wants to hear. I once stayed up all night desperately trying to manufacture an “epiphany” essay about a transformative book that changed my worldview. In reality though, I was just a pretty normal teenager without any stunning revelations to report. I cringe now thinking about the contrived essay I cooked up. Admission officers have a sixth sense for authenticity – or lack thereof – so focus on self-awareness over self-promotion.
That said, do highlight the essence of what makes you stand out, even if it’s quirky. In my case, I was a band geek who wove my clarinet endeavors through my application even though I was convinced it made me sound like a nerd. But it truly reflected my passion, and it must have worked because here I am! Let your distinct personality and interests shine through.
When it comes to academic accomplishments, don’t downplay them if they’re legitimately impressive. Yes, humility is important, but you’re applying to college, not running for saint. I could have included more of my extracurricular math competition awards but I sheepishly left them out. Silly me – colleges actually want to see well-rounded brains like mine!
Beyond grades and scores, give the full flavor of your high school experience by highlighting that time you started a recycling initiative or organized a fundraiser. I spent my weekends teaching coding classes to middle school girls, which demonstrated leadership and commitment to inspiring my community. But in my self-deprecating teenage mindset, I dismissed that as not impressive enough for my application. I was wrong!
Finally, acknowledge that you still have much more discovering to do about your interests and talents – and frame that as exciting rather than lacking confidence. I stated confidently that I would pursue a career as a biochemical engineer, but hadn’t truly explored enough to know if that was the best path for me. It’s okay not to have everything mapped out at 17! Show your zeal for the voyage of self-discovery ahead.
The college application process can feel intimidating, but ultimately it’s about putting your authentic self out there – quirks and all. Focus less on impossible standards of perfection and more on self-awareness. You’ve accomplished more than you give yourself credit for, so allow those meaningful moments to shine through as you launch yourself toward a future filled with possibilities. And breathe easy knowing that wherever you land, it will be the first step of many on a long journey of exploration. You’ve so got this!