Every college admissions season I see students get frustrated, overwhelmed, and confused by all the college apps advice out there. It feels like well-meaning teachers, counselors, parents, and college prep companies seem to just parrot the same few pieces of college apps advice: be well-rounded, show you're a hard worker, be the most qualified candidate in order to stand out.
Here's my problem with all of this. Most of these strategies are outdated, and they set you up to fail with impossible standards. And the main reason these tips don't work? They force you to be someone other than yourself. And we don't do that around here.
Even my favorite piece of standard college application advice, "just be yourself!" comes with the slight undertone that being yourself might not be good enough.
So much of academics is rooted in perfectionism. Getting the right answer, working as hard as possible, being good at everything.... it's all about proving that you're perfect. That you're good enough. And when you're forced to constantly prove you're good enough... you start to feel like you're not.
I hate that we teach our kids this. No one should go into the college application process feeling like they're not smart enough or that they have to prove themselves.
Students should feel joy, excitement, confidence, pride!! Imagine what kind of application you would put together if that's how you felt about yourself.
So... enough. Enough of the impossible standards. Enough of feeling like you have to be perfect. Enough of constantly trying to prove yourself.
Because you are enough. Just as you are. And when you approach your application knowing that truth, it gets a hell of a lot easier.
The common misconception is that students think admissions officers are looking for well-rounded students. Unfortunately, this is what we teach our students, who pack their schedules full and join every extracurricular in sight, thinking, "if admissions officers see that I can do everything, that will definitely make me stand out." Here's the problem: college admissions officers are not looking for well-rounded students. They are looking for a well-rounded class. Admissions officers are looking for students who are cultivating their interests and investing in their passions, not students who are willing to try anything just to put it on their resume. Instead of trying to show how well-rounded you are, think of the interests you hold that may be unique or a passion that you invest time, energy, and effort into. Then think about how you can showcase these areas that you're focused on and excited about, instead of trying to prove you can do everything. What are your unique interests? How can you highlight those interests in your application?
This is the #1 issue I see students run into when completing their college applications. But honestly, it's not their fault. This is what we teach our kids to do - in society, in the school system, in media... we set them up to fail. YEP. You heard me. We set them up to fail. Pushing students to prove they're the perfect candidate to impress admissions officers is a long-standing college apps strategy. But here's the problem with that: the perfect candidate doesn't exist. And we're teaching kids to be anyone but themselves. We're teaching them that they're not good enough as is. And that's bullshit. The real you is WAYYY more interesting than the "perfect" version of you. The real you is good enough. Admissions officers don't want perfect students. They want real students. Where are you trying to prove you're perfect? Where can you show more of the real you?
I hate to tell you this, but if your only competitive advantage is that you're the hardest worker in the room, you're doomed to fail. Not just on your college apps, but in life! Everyone applying to college (or a competitive internship, job, or research opportunity) is trying to show how hard they work. And if it really comes down to it, there is always someone who is willing to work a little bit harder and a little bit longer than you are. If hard work is all you offer, if that's all your entire application is built upon, you'll be overlooked. What else do you offer? What qualities make you, you?
Proving that you were the most qualified candidate (4.0 GPA, perfect test scores, tons of activities, leadership experience, etc) used to actually be a great strategy. The problem is that more and more students are becoming more and more qualified. All of you are so smart, talented, motivated, and involved. Unfortunately, it doesn't come down to just being qualified anymore - the majority of candidates are over-qualified. Here's the biggest shift I've seen in college admissions over the last 10 years: the most qualified candidate doesn't get accepted; the most memorable one does. How can you be more memorable?
Inside my college apps workshop on July 20th, I'll be teaching you how to leverage the only college application strategy that works: to be 100% yourself. If you're interested in joining me, or want to check out the replay from last year, you can get on the waitlist here.