I work with really smart high school students every year. These students have excellent grades in challenging curriculums, strong tests scores and demonstrated commitment to their extracurricular endeavors. These students end up with college choices that many other students can only dream about. However, when fewer than 10% of applicants are admitted to some of the most selective colleges, often these great students have applications that don’t end up in the admit pile.
A few years ago, I worked with a student who was admitted to almost every university to which she applied. Other students who I worked with that year had similar credentials and also earned admission to some the nation’s top colleges, but none of them had the choices that the first student had. After supporting her through the application process, I wanted nothing more than to call each admission committee and tell them that she was “the one.”
What made her stand out? It wasn’t a number or a line on her resume, it was her intrinsic interest in learning and making connections that came through as she worked on each application. She wanted to think about what inspired her and how her background and interests would impact her future college community. Many straight A students want to write the perfect essay on the first try, revise it once and move on. This student thought, regularly, about the messages she was conveying in her writing and wasn’t afraid to take a risk, show her personality, or make a fresh start when one idea wasn’t turning out the way she planned. Frankly, despite the numerous other commitments she had, she WANTED to put herself into the college application process.
I spent my time on an admissions committee. The debates were sometimes heated, and I will admit to feeling truly excited about some of the “admits” and saddened by some of files marked with a WL (waitlist). In my mind, the students who can convey the depth of their curiosity or the breadth of their perspectives in addition to presenting strong academic credentials are the ones who become most compelling to an admission committee.
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