To the Class of 2016,
You’ve made it. You’re finally a senior. You’ve earned all of the status and privilege that comes with this tremendous accomplishment. As you already know, there’s also a great deal of responsibility you take on this year, not the least of which is completing your college applications and the college search overall. As a newly-minted college counselor but a veteran admission officer, I wanted to pass along to you what I hope are some words of wisdom as you approach this exciting yet challenging task.
What you will eventually submit to colleges and universities is an application. But you are an applicant. It is far easier for admission officers to waitlist or deny an application than it is for them to waitlist or deny an applicant. In this process, be an applicant.
So you’re probably saying to yourself, yeah, that’s nice Mrs. Livingston, but easier said than done. And you’re right. It’s not easy, but it’s eminently doable. Let me explain.
As you begin to narrow down your list of schools and begin filling in the fields on an application, you may be fretting over your standardized test scores or bemoaning the less-than-stellar grade you got in 10th grade English. Those objective criteria are important; but, in many cases, they are not the be-all and end-all of an application. What you’ve heard you’re whole life is true; you are more than a number (or your numbers in the case of college applications). Especially in selective pools that utilize holistic review processes (meaning schools that evaluate both objective and subjective criteria in determining an admission decision), students more often than not, distinguish themselves through their subjective criteria (extracurricular activities, letters of recommendations, essays, interviews, etc.). As you begin to craft your applications, do not focus your energies on the objective criteria. As seniors, those criteria are mostly set. You cannot go back and change your courses or your grades. You may sit for another SAT or ACT but likely the bulk of your standardized testing is behind you. Focus instead on presenting yourself, your three-dimensional self, and all of the wonderful qualities you possess in that realm.
Be thoughtful about how you articulate your extracurricular accomplishments. Know that colleges are evaluating quality, not quantity. Highlight those commitments that speak to your passions and draw attention to leadership positions held or distinctions made in your organizations. Be sure to explain your involvements if they are not known quantities. For example, admission officers may not know that Happy Club is connected to Operation Smile or that Monogram Club is our Bulldog spirit group. Admission officers are evaluating extracurricular activities for commitment and for distinction. So showcase the depth and breadth of your involvement. This will help admission officers to see how you engage within a greater community and can help them get a sense of how you will engage with their campus.
Paws to consider who you will ask to write letters of recommendation on your behalf. Grades and transcripts only paint a partial picture of who you are as a student. A transcript will show admission officers how you did in a class. Teacher recommendations will showcase how you contributed to and impacted that classroom. Were you a catalyst for discussion? Were your papers the teacher’s favorite to read? Were the questions you posed the ones that really got your peers to think deeply about the topic at hand? Were you someone who brought joy and levity to the classroom? These kinds of insights are helpful to admission officers in parsing out how you will add to the intellectual dynamic of their college or university.
Finally, the essay. I know, I know…the dreaded college essay. But this is the medium through which you get to communicate most directly with the admission officers who will make a decision about your application. You get to use your voice to tell your story. Think of your essay as a PERSONAL STATEMENT. YOU should be the subject of what you write about. Think about messaging; what story are you telling and how will it be perceived. What can colleges learn about you through an essay that they haven’t learned in other parts of your application? It’s ok to be personal. It’s ok to take risks. It’s ok to use the first person and to stray from the typical five-paragraph format. Most importantly, it’s ok, strike that, it’s vital for you to be yourself.
Know that throughout this process, we are here for you. If you want to run an essay draft, or the phrasing for an extracurricular activity, or anything and everything related to your applications by us, we’re here to help.
Your numbers will speak for themselves. Your college counselors, your teachers, and you yourself most importantly will speak for you – the three-dimensional you. The you that lifts everyone sprits after a tough loss. The you that decorates a friend’s locker for their birthday. The you that serves as the greatest role model for your younger sibling. The you that is an expert on the latest version of Madden. Think about who you are and how you convey that through this application. And in the end, if you’ve made that application into the best representation of who you are as an applicant, then you will have done all that you can do to represent yourself to the fullest and best extent possible.
Mrs. Wendy Livingston, Associate Director of College Counseling