The Application Paradox and How To Navigate It

People often ask me for advice on the application part of the college process, which I think has a complicated answer. The most important thing that you can do is fully communicate yourself, your ideals, and your goals as clearly as possible.

Now, this might sound obvious, but it’s much more difficult than it seems. As a high schooler, it’s impossible to pretend that you already know the entire grand narrative of your life. It can be difficult to feel like you can communicate all of yourself in your application, so here are a few things to keep in mind!

Remember that all of your experiences are important! Academics and extracurriculars are often thought of as the end-all-be-all of applications, but those aren’t the only things colleges keep in mind. Jobs, familial commitments, and anything else that takes up a large part of your time make you who you are. Nothing in anyone’s life is non-meaningful. It’s easy to forget about or pass up the stuff we consider less marketable, but those things are sometimes the most important to you.

Think about not only what you do, but why you do it. It’s easy to feel like college applications are all about getting the most words on a page that can act as a testament to your achievements, but quThe ality is truly more important than quantity. Why are you involved in what you’re involved in? How are those activities a part of who you are? 

Try to pinpoint your values and how they have made you the person you are today. Institutions aren’t just looking for achievements, they’re also looking for what you care about and how those facets align with their own values. Take some time to dig into the colleges you’re looking at, and take even more time considering what you find to be most important. If you have a strong idea of who you are and what you care about, that will come across to colleges. Think about how you can best communicate those values in your application!

Remember, the college application process isn’t just about trying to get colleges to choose you. Colleges also want you to choose them! Don’t just think about what makes you a strong candidate for them, but also what makes them a strong candidate for you. It’s your college experience, and you should consider what kind of institution you want to be a part of.

At the end of the day, all that you can do is try to communicate yourself thoroughly, and that can be a tough gig. Ask for testimonials from friends, talk to your teachers, reach out to alumni of various institutions, and try to get the best possible feel of yourself and the places you’re applying.

Wherever you end up — good luck!