How celebrating your quirks can get you into college

Around this time each year, I love reading news articles about standout application essays and students’ admission successes. When I was an admission officer, the personal statements and university-specific supplements were my favorite part of the admission process because they were always a celebration of the quirks each student would bring to campus; their wit, self-aware reflections, sincere passions, and impactful life experiences. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ones whose applications merited lengthier conversations in committee were the ones we felt we really got to know -- whose personality, perspectives, and potential authentically shone through.

We delighted most in the stories that brought students to life on paper. Here are some excellent examples of students' personal qualities that were displayed in their essay topics:

Intellectual vitality: Reflecting on C.S. Lewis’ writing and how it resonates with his own life and philosophy.
Creativity: A non-native speaker attempting to perfect his language skills by creating his own music videos in Chinese.
Playfulness: Taking her obsession with Harry Potter and making a fun game for children with cancer to find Horcruxes around the hospital. 
Upbringing: Going against the family grain as the only vegetarian in her 50+ person meat-loving Dominican family. 
Drive: Using self-taught coding skills over three years and engaging in the design thinking process to launch apps for social good.
Sense of humor: Detailing his weight loss process through Insanity workouts and personal “fried chicken resistance campaigns.” 
Willingness to explore new challenges: Training to be a “laughter yogi” to lead wellness programs in her community.
Multiple talents: A varsity diver and aspiring physicist’s connecting his two passions in a compelling way.
Joy in everyday activities: Watching TED talks while washing the dishes and describing each video as a “small intellectual oasis."

As you attend information sessions and regional events, you’ll hear this often: more than the topic of an essay, it’s how the story is written and what it reveals about the student that often resonates most with admission officers. The stories that stood out made us feel with the writer; we laughed out loud, shed real tears, felt pangs of pain or swells of joy, and sometimes even had to take a break from reading to recover from the power of an application. It’s those very stories that we oftentimes quoted out loud to convince the committee to make room for the student in the following year’s admitted class, and you can bet that they truly made a difference.

 

-Grace K, College Advisor