Who Are You? The Most Important Question in College Admissions!
At my first college admissions meetings with students, I ask parents to identify nouns, adjectives, phrases, and short stories that will help me know something about their son or daughter. Usually, one parent takes the lead, calling out a rapid-fire list of words: "Brilliant, tough as nails in sports, hard-working, a team player." Then the other parent chimes in with more adjectives: "Caring, respectful, great with children." I like to hear from both parents because moms and dads often have unique perspectives on their kids. To get a little deeper, I might also ask, "What was your son (or daughter) like when he (she) was a little boy (girl)?" Or, "How do you think your daughter's (son's) friends would describe her (him)?"
I take notes on what the parents say, and when they are finished with their verbal offerings, I ask students if they want to add anything. After the meeting, I email the list of the words to the student and parents, so they can keep adding words.
This exercise is the beginning of a process to come up with word messages students want colleges to "get" about them as they fill-out applications, write essays and have interviews. Figuring out how to communicate about what makes you "you" is one of the most important parts of applying to college.
Why do this? Well, last year's Stanford application asked, "What five words best describe you?" As they complete the application School Report and Teacher Evaluation forms, high school counselors and teachers appreciate word lists to help them write about what makes students stand out. Just so you know, research suggests that knowing who you are is a first step in becoming a confident, effective adult.
A Word List Starting Point
Since I always encourage students to develop word lists, many ask me to provide examples of words that other applicant families have come up with. To give you some idea, here is a list of descriptive words and phrases I have collected over the years:
A: Academic, adventurous, an advocate, analytical, animal-lover, animated, articulate, artistic, assertive, astute, athletic, autonomous
B: Balanced, brilliant, business-oriented
C: Can-do attitude, capable, caring, cerebral, good with children, class clown, community service oriented, compassionate, competent, concerned about others, confident, conscientious, considerate, courageous, creative, curious
D: Daring, dependable, detail-oriented, diligent, disciplined, down-to-earth, driven
E: Empathetic, enthusiastic, an entrepreneur, ethical, an explorer
F: Fearless, a finisher, fitness-oriented, flexible, focused, a foodie, friendly, doesn't suffer fools, fun, funny
G: Generous, gentle, genuine, never gives up, goal-oriented, goes beyond what is expected, good natured, good with the elderly, gracious, grounded
H: Happy, hard-working, health-oriented, honest, humble, GREAT sense of humor
I: Imaginative, fiercely independent, inspirational, an intellectual, intelligent, interpersonal, involved
J: Jovial, joyful
K: Kind, has real know-how, knowledge-seeking
L: Good with languages, a leader, a fast learner, logical, loyal
M: Mature, mechanically oriented, methodical, modest, motivated, multi-lingual, musical
N: Natural, nonconformist
O: An "old-soul," optimistic, organized, original, outdoorsy, outgoing, his or her own person
P: Passionate, patient, persistent, poised, polite, popular, positive, has stage presence, a problem solver
Q: Quick, quirky
R: A reader, reliable, a researcher, resilient, resourceful, respected, respectful, responsible, a risk-taker
S: Scholarly, scientific, a self-starter, science-oriented, sensitive to others, sincere, sparkling, spiritual, a sponge for ideas, a sports nut, stands out from the crowd, social, strong-willed, studious, supportive
T: Take-charge person, talented, a natural teacher, a team player, techy, tenacious, deep thinker, thirsty for knowledge, loves to travel, trustworthy
U: Unafraid, unique, unpretentious, upfront
W: Willing to step up, worldly, beautiful writer
X: A xenophile (love of foreigners)
I encourage you to take a look at the words above and circle any that apply to you. If other words or phrases pop into your mind, write them down! Keep the list in an accessible place so that you can refer back to them summer/fall of your senior year, when you begin working on college application materials.
By the way, if you want to share your own special words with others, put them in the Comments Section below, or send them to my Twitter (@admissposs) or Facebook pages. I'll then post a running list on my website, www.adMISSIONPOSSIBLE.com
Follow Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/admissposs
The Common Application asks you to “elaborate” on one of you extracurricular activities in 150 words. This short paragraph is an important one on your application. In just a few sentences, you must convey something personal, meaningful, and interesting about yourself.
Seems impossible, right? “How can I sum up my experience in my favorite extracurricular activities in just a few sentences?”
Well, it’s time to tackle the impossible. These tips may help you decide which activity to focus upon, and how to write a well-structured paragraph that gives the reader a deeper understanding of your motivations and your priorities.
Choosing the Right Activity
- Don’t necessarily pick the activity that looms largest on your resume or activity list. If you are a star tennis player and possible recruit for a college team, that fact will be clear on your activity list. If you are the best clarinetist in the city, then your activity list should reflect that fact. Remember, the prompt asks you to “elaborate” on the activity. It doesn’t say you have to choose the one that takes up the most time, nor does it say that it must be the one that is your primary extracurricular focus. More specifically, it may be that the activity in which you have achieved or excelled the most is not the activity that will be the best to elaborate upon in this short essay. Consider the other activities that may help to round out your application and present another view of what motivates and interests you.
- Consider which activities carry the most personal meaning to you. Look back over your resume or activities list and ask yourself, “Which of these would I miss the most if I could no longer do it?” Perhaps it’s that annual scouting trip, or the weekends skiing with your family. Or maybe it’s that concert you organize at the nursing home twice a year that brings you particular joy.
- Consider elaborating on an activity that is not on the activities list or resume. For example, perhaps your extended family shares Sunday dinner together regularly, and this ritual has had a big influence on you and helped to shape your feelings about family. Maybe you actually enjoy mowing your lawn every week, making it look nice by paying attention to details. Perhaps you ride your bike to school every morning, and you use that time to notice details on your route, and get your head together before and after your workday.
- Consider taking one of your activities and giving it greater specificity and detail. As you know, the space on the application in which to elaborate on your activities is very, very limited. So use this short paragraph to pull out some details. For example, perhaps you mention on your activity sheet that you have done volunteer work at a hospital, and that you have several responsibilities. But there is one responsibility, in particular, that you most enjoy. To take another example, perhaps you are a guitar player, and your activity list indicates that you’re fairly good, but not great. However, there I some particular aspect of playing the guitar that you enjoy: you don’t mind playing scales over and over in order to improve your technique; you go to a music store on Saturdays where a bunch of bluegrass players get together and jam, and you join in, despite the fact you aren’t the best player; or you are a huge fan of Andre Segovia and have listened to every piece he has ever recorded. These sorts of details can say a lot about the depth of your interest in an activity, even if it is not where your greatest accomplishments lie.
The Focus: “Why?”
- Your activity list or resume should address the questions of “What, When, and Where?” (the “who” should be apparent: you!). This list explains your accomplishments and the range of your commitments. But it doesn’t explain your motivations or your priorities. This short essay-ette gives you an opportunity do some explaining.
- As with your primary college essay and with the supplements, the aim here is to give the admissions officer reading your file a bit more information about yourself. What you convey in this short paragraph is something that they won’t find in the essays, and that they won’t really know from reading your activity list. This is another opportunity for you to present another interesting and important facet of your personality. All the essays give your application depth and dimension. Don’t throw away this opportunity to tell the reader more about yourself.
Tips for Writing
- Start with a list of reasons you participate in this activity. What do you get out of it? Why do you enjoy it? Why would you miss it if you suddenly were unable to do it anymore?
- Remember that not every aspect of your participation may be enjoyable. Are there reasons you participate in this activity that actually help you accomplish something else that is, in fact, even more enjoyable? For example, weigh training may not always be fun, but it can make you stronger. Practicing the flute may be enjoyable in some respects, and not so much in others—but practicing makes you a better player.
- Once your list of reasons why you participate in this activity, pick the top three. Write your essay in 5 sentences. One to introduce the activity, three to explain why you do it, and 1 to spare, either as a conclusion or as an elaboration on your introduction.
- If you are having trouble, try completing these sentence prompts to get you going.
- When I participate in this activity, I feel ___________.
- I originally got involved in this activity because ____________ . And now I continue this activity because ____________ .
- My favorite aspect of this activity is ____________ .
- My friends think this activity is ___________ .
- I take the most pride in this aspect of the activity: ___________ .
College Essay Expert
Filed Under: Application TipsTagged With: college, Common Application, essay