I covered the importance of showing fit in Episode 162 “Focus on Fit,” the second most popular show of 2016 and the most popular show of the second half of 2016. But there is a second focus you need if you want to apply successfully to highly competitive programs. You need a corollary to fit. You need distinctiveness. That’s what today’s show is about.
If you only fit in or only stand out, you are unlikely to get accepted at programs that reject 80, 90 or 95% of applicants. [1:20]
Why do you need to stand out? [1:45]
Schools value diversity. Diversity creates a richer learning environment for those lucky enough to get in. If you are applying to any elite professional or academic graduate program, once you show you can do the work and that you fit in, you will be competing against others who have made the same case and who show they can stand out – that they can bring a distinctive element to a school’s class and community.
Programs with 2-3% acceptance rate are not looking just to see who has the highest numbers – they want students who will contribute. Contribution takes different forms as you’ll see later in this episode.
Many admissions professionals consider themselves enrollment managers. [2:50]
They are creating a class and they view the class as a mosaic. Every individual student is an individual stone in this mosaic. And just like each stone in a mosaic has a distinctive hue and role to play in creating the whole picture, so does each individual accepted to a program.
Stand out by showing you have something distinctive to contribute. I’ll show you the ways to do that: [3: 37]
1. Excel – do better than your peers. I realize that this is easy to say and hard to do. But it is one effective way to stand out. Actually I wanted to say “an outstanding way,” but thought better of it.
2. Have distinctive experiences. Maybe you have professional experience, community service, involvement in the arts, sports, religious organizations, or political activism that is unusual in your field. And if you showed leadership, teamwork, initiative, innovative spirit. creativity, and impact, you probably have something distinctive to write about.
Please note that being a member of an organization or committee is less impressive than assuming responsibility and taking a leadership role where the buck from something stops with you. Highlight the latter, not the former.
You don’t have to climb Mt. Everest or swim the English Channel, although if you did those activities, they would certainly be distinctive. The key thing is that you have a distinctive experience where you took an active role.
3. Draw on your unusual personal experience or background (something you are as opposed to something you have done). Have you overcome disadvantage? Do you come from a part of the world or an ethnic background that is under-represented at your target program? How does that aspect of our life enrich you? Change you?
4. Show your distinctive perspective, whether it is personal or professional (what and how you think as opposed to what you’ve done or are). Two caveats here: 1) Don’t preach. 2) If you have a distinctive perspective, where have you put it into action? What difference does it make? For example, did you look at a report or data and see something in those numbers that no one else had seen previously? Is your research bringing a unique perspective to your field?
5. Show a habit of contribution. When have you made a difference in the past? A fundamental premise of admissions: Past behavior predicts future behavior. If you have not been active in the past, the adcom will have reason to be concerned that you won’t be engaged with their campus community, either.
There are two parts to submitting a competitive application: [9:00]
1. Have competitive qualifications. Have the ingredients that make you competitive.
2. Present those ingredients effectively.
We’ve been focusing on standing out and what will make you stand out. But again, you need to present those qualifications effectively. I’ve seen so many applications where applicants with dynamic, fascinating stories actually came across as boring and dull because they failed throughout their app – essays, CV/resume, short answers, job and activity histories, and the interviews – to present their experiences effectively.
I’m not talking writing Shakespearean English. But admissions committees want to meet and admit individuals.
It’s not enough to have distinctive experience, you also should present it distinctively — and that doesn’t mean weird or forced. So what are techniques that will help you present your story authentically, distinctively, and persuasively throughout the entire application? [9:55]
The first step to presenting yourself distinctively is:
Write in specifics: Use succinct anecdotes and detail to bring you to life. Because it’s your story, no one else has it. So many applicants will write in declarative sentences and generalities. That kind of writing bores, and the applicants blend in to a gray mass of blah.
But if you write in specifics, you automatically individuate.
Focus on achievements and not responsibilities when describing your professional and non-professional experiences.
The results of your efforts will distinguish you. Merely describing your responsibilities makes you like every other person with a similar job title. Highlight your successes, achievements, and results, and you will automatically stand out –in a very impressive way.
An example of how the way your write makes a difference: an EMT applying to medical school. If you just describe the job, you will blend in with all the other EMTs also applying to medical school. But if you describe your specific accomplishments (perhaps delivering a baby, doing CPR to save the life on a child after a pool accident), you will stand out.
Furthermore, quantify those results and achievements when possible. The numbers will add concreteness and credibility to your story. (For more advice on how to fit in, check out Focus on Fit.)
I’ll summarize the ways to stand out, and the ways to present your experiences effectively [15:45] :
Substance of distinction:
2. Reflect distinctive experiences.
3. Show an individual point of view.
4. Reveal a habit of contribution.
Presenting yourself so that you stand out:
1. Use specifics, anecdotes and details.
2. Focus on results and achievements, not just responsibility descriptions.
If you’d like Accepted to advise you individually so that you apply confidently showing that you both fit in and stand out, find the perfect consulting service for you and get on the path to acceptance!
Please feel free to post any questions you have in the comments!
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