Here’s a visualization exercise I use with students before they start their admissions essays.
I want you to imagine a college admissions representative. I’ll say it’s a woman in her late 30’s, but you can visualize anyone you want. It’s mid-February, at 9 pm on a weeknight. She’s sitting at a desk with a pen in her hand and a stack of multi-colored post-it notes at her side. Surrounding her are piles of file folders – dozens, maybe hundreds of file folders. Inside each of these file folders is the application of one hopeful high school student who wants to attend her college.
Here’s a (slightly dramatized) photo to help you out (this is Tina Fey, in the movie Admissions):
She’s been up since 6 am, and reading applications since 8 am. In fact, she’s been reading applications since the first week of January, and will continue to read applications until at least mid-March. She spends an average of seven minutes with each application. After she reads them, she makes a recommendation: Admit, Deny, or Defer. While she isn’t the final word – each application gets read by at least two people – she has a lot of power in deciding who gets in and who doesn’t.
Towards the end of her full day of reading applications, the college admissions representative opens a new file – and inside is YOUR APPLICATION. She looks at your classes, and your GPA, and she likes what she sees. She notes your test scores, and is equally impressed. She reads through your list of extracurricular activities, community service, work experience and awards, and nods her head in approval. She can see you’ve worked hard in high school and is pretty certain you’d do quite well at her college.
But, she also has dozens and dozens of applicants JUST LIKE YOU. Similar classes, similar GPA, similar test scores, equally impressive extracurricular activities. And while she’d love to admit every strong student she comes across, she knows that she can only put about 1/3 of the folders into the Admit pile. Only about a third of those hard-working young people will be given an offer to join her college.
So what are you going to write in your essay that will make the admissions officer decide to put your application in the ADMIT pile?
This is what I want you to visualize when you select your essay topics and as you craft your essays. Your challenge is to figure out what you can write that will make an admissions rep think, “I want this student at my college!” Continually return to this admissions officer and ask yourself, “What can I tell him/her that will make me memorable?”
Your answer to that question should be as unique as you are!