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The Secret to College Applications

The Secret to College Applications

There's a secret to college applications, and Kristen is sharing it with Fastwebbers.

By Kristen Lemaster

October 30, 2012

Applying to colleges can be quite the juggling act; you are torn between senioritis and an astonishing amount of homework, commitments to your social life and family obligations, work, sports, extracurriculars, and the favorite among high school (and even more so college) students: sleep.

On top of all those things, there is also so much that you have to consider for the application process itself. How do you walk that thin line between pride and humility? Are you portraying yourself as well-rounded enough? Which books can you say you’ve read in order to sound smarter? There’s so much you have to keep in your head constantly, right?

Wrong. The secret to college applications is remembering just one thing: be real.

Forget about signing up to be a math tutor for an afternoon only so you can add it to your application later. If you don’t like math or tutoring, don’t feel like you have to do it to make yourself seem more multidimensional. First, college admissions officers see right through it (they’ve either already worked in admissions for years or they have children of their own and are no strangers to hearing bent- or half-truths).

Second, that’s valuable time you could be spending doing something you actually care about. The reality is that colleges are more interested in depth than width. It doesn’t matter how big the pool is; if it’s shallow, it’s not a particularly fun pool. If you’d rather be volunteering at the elementary school puppet show because you love children’s theater, go out and do that wholeheartedly.

Not only is it something that you will be prouder to list aside your other children’s-theater-related accomplishments, but you’ll also naturally sound more genuine when talking or writing about what really excites you and makes you happy. Forget about writing in such a way that suggests you read the dictionary on lonely, boring Friday nights.

Sesquipedalianism will never be as impressive as honesty, and there’s a reason why “pulchritudinous” doesn’t go over as well as “beautiful” in the realm of pick-up lines. It’s still a great idea to have your teachers read your application essays and offer suggestions on how to better phrase things to make the writing more powerful, but it’s just as useful to have your friends read your essays, too. Your friends can pinpoint the places where you sound too grandiloquent, too vainglorious – too much like a college applicant who is trying too hard.

It’s also okay to be funny, too, as long as you’re pretty confident that you really are funny, because I’m sure that admissions offices already get plenty of essays that read like compilations of stand-up comedy nights gone wrong. Forget about exaggerating your involvement or inventing executive positions that you never held. Think of your college application as the first time you actually step foot onto their campus. It’s a first impression, and it’s setting yourself up for who they’ll expect you to be, should you be accepted.

How would you feel if you knew you lied on your application and now had to spend every day of college pretending to be someone you aren’t? Plus, times and titles aren’t necessarily the basis for an outstanding application. Yes, admissions officers want to see that you are committed and responsible. No, those qualities don’t mean anything if you get nothing from them.

How has your involvement in a certain club influenced your plans for your life? How has your involvement in an organization made you re-evaluate the world? What can you bring to the university as a result of your involvement with a particular group?

Facts, like the length of time you participated in something and any official positions you held or awards you won, are important, but they’re not everything. People are much more, and your college application should be more than facts, as well.

Most importantly, forget about molding yourself into the perfect, ideal applicant. It’s a terrible mindset because no such high school senior exists. There are thousands of colleges across the nation, each with its own methods of determining which students would thrive there. There’s also a reason why you’re applying to (and why I’m currently attending) college: there is still so much to be learned!

The better mindset to have is that by portraying the most accurate, comprehensive, representative version of yourself, the colleges you’re applying to will be able to make better admissions decisions. So when you finally get that acceptance letter, you know it’s every bit as real as you are.

Do you have any additional college application secrets?


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