1. Your ResuméYour resumé is a great place to start looking for those common threads. Start by making a list of all the things you do, and then see where they divide naturally into categories. It will seem scattered at first—I had a list including short fiction, patriotic essays, a pet store art contest, vocal music, poetry reading, and fashion design, but after some thought these all fell fairly neatly into writing, performance, and visual art. Once you have your categories, structure your resumé to highlight the areas that are most important to you. This will stand out over and above a resumé that may in actuality be more impressive, but has been left unstructured and impersonal. The next step is probably the most important: you need to choose a word that sums up all three of your categories. For our imaginary student, the word might have been “service;” for me, it was “story.” I realized that writing, performance, and art are all just different ways of telling stories. So find your word. Love it. It’s your new best friend.
2. EssaysKeep your word in mind when you’re writing college essays, and reference it often. Remember that your essays will be reviewed alongside your resumé, which will be reviewed alongside your recommendations—in short, nothing stands alone. They’re all pieces in the puzzle that has to give admissions officers an idea of who you actually are, not just what you’ve done. Take the time to make sure all the pieces fit together the way you want them to. With my focus being on story, I used my college essays to tell stories—lots of them. Some serious, some silly, but all highlighting my own personality and interests. And honestly? A lot of them were a ton of fun to write. When you’re writing about things you care about, you tend to enjoy the process.
3. A Little Something MoreYou may want to throw in extra pizazz—to spice it up, so to speak. Spice away! What quirks or ideas do you have that you want to bring out in addition to your main theme? These extra tidbits can give life to your application, and help make you even more personable. I decided early on that I was going to be unconventional in my formatting and content (staying well within the rules and guidelines, of course). Whenever there was an opportunity to deviate from what I thought “most people” did, I took it—from constructing an essay around Beyoncé lyrics, to listing my GPA and test scores dead last on my resumé under the heading “I Can Jump Through Hoops.” (And I should say that I’m still waiting on quite a few admissions decisions, so whether or not colleges like unconventionality remains to be seen.) I also found myself writing about food rather more than I intended, so I ran with it, and food has now become a common theme in my application materials, to the point that I list “soup” alongside literature, painting, and musical theater in my areas of interest.
4. Be Yourself!The real you will always make a better impression than a fake you who you think is more impressive. Put your best food forward, certainly, but don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. Not every school in the world will want to accept a soup-eating storyteller, but chances are the ones that do will be the ones I want to go to. Be honest with yourself, and be honest about yourself. Colleges are looking for people, in the end, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there as a real person and see what happens from there.
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