Who Are You? The Most Important Question in College Admissions!
At my first college admissions meetings with students, I ask parents to identify nouns, adjectives, phrases, and short stories that will help me know something about their son or daughter. Usually, one parent takes the lead, calling out a rapid-fire list of words: "Brilliant, tough as nails in sports, hard-working, a team player." Then the other parent chimes in with more adjectives: "Caring, respectful, great with children." I like to hear from both parents because moms and dads often have unique perspectives on their kids. To get a little deeper, I might also ask, "What was your son (or daughter) like when he (she) was a little boy (girl)?" Or, "How do you think your daughter's (son's) friends would describe her (him)?"
I take notes on what the parents say, and when they are finished with their verbal offerings, I ask students if they want to add anything. After the meeting, I email the list of the words to the student and parents, so they can keep adding words.
This exercise is the beginning of a process to come up with word messages students want colleges to "get" about them as they fill-out applications, write essays and have interviews. Figuring out how to communicate about what makes you "you" is one of the most important parts of applying to college.
Why do this? Well, last year's Stanford application asked, "What five words best describe you?" As they complete the application School Report and Teacher Evaluation forms, high school counselors and teachers appreciate word lists to help them write about what makes students stand out. Just so you know, research suggests that knowing who you are is a first step in becoming a confident, effective adult.
A Word List Starting Point
Since I always encourage students to develop word lists, many ask me to provide examples of words that other applicant families have come up with. To give you some idea, here is a list of descriptive words and phrases I have collected over the years:
A: Academic, adventurous, an advocate, analytical, animal-lover, animated, articulate, artistic, assertive, astute, athletic, autonomous
B: Balanced, brilliant, business-oriented
C: Can-do attitude, capable, caring, cerebral, good with children, class clown, community service oriented, compassionate, competent, concerned about others, confident, conscientious, considerate, courageous, creative, curious
D: Daring, dependable, detail-oriented, diligent, disciplined, down-to-earth, driven
E: Empathetic, enthusiastic, an entrepreneur, ethical, an explorer
F: Fearless, a finisher, fitness-oriented, flexible, focused, a foodie, friendly, doesn't suffer fools, fun, funny
G: Generous, gentle, genuine, never gives up, goal-oriented, goes beyond what is expected, good natured, good with the elderly, gracious, grounded
H: Happy, hard-working, health-oriented, honest, humble, GREAT sense of humor
I: Imaginative, fiercely independent, inspirational, an intellectual, intelligent, interpersonal, involved
J: Jovial, joyful
K: Kind, has real know-how, knowledge-seeking
L: Good with languages, a leader, a fast learner, logical, loyal
M: Mature, mechanically oriented, methodical, modest, motivated, multi-lingual, musical
N: Natural, nonconformist
O: An "old-soul," optimistic, organized, original, outdoorsy, outgoing, his or her own person
P: Passionate, patient, persistent, poised, polite, popular, positive, has stage presence, a problem solver
Q: Quick, quirky
R: A reader, reliable, a researcher, resilient, resourceful, respected, respectful, responsible, a risk-taker
S: Scholarly, scientific, a self-starter, science-oriented, sensitive to others, sincere, sparkling, spiritual, a sponge for ideas, a sports nut, stands out from the crowd, social, strong-willed, studious, supportive
T: Take-charge person, talented, a natural teacher, a team player, techy, tenacious, deep thinker, thirsty for knowledge, loves to travel, trustworthy
U: Unafraid, unique, unpretentious, upfront
W: Willing to step up, worldly, beautiful writer
X: A xenophile (love of foreigners)
I encourage you to take a look at the words above and circle any that apply to you. If other words or phrases pop into your mind, write them down! Keep the list in an accessible place so that you can refer back to them summer/fall of your senior year, when you begin working on college application materials.
By the way, if you want to share your own special words with others, put them in the Comments Section below, or send them to my Twitter (@admissposs) or Facebook pages. I'll then post a running list on my website, www.adMISSIONPOSSIBLE.com
Follow Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/admissposs
In honor of South Carolina’s College Application Month, College of Charleston experts offer 10 tips to rock your admissions essay. The College’s admissions essay questions (available now at this link) are:
- What event in the last ten years will have the greatest impact on the millennial generation?
- Your YouTube channel just hit one million views. Describe your most watched video.
Time to buckle down!
The admissions essay is an important part of the application, and one of the few parts you have control over as you enter your senior year of high school – the grades you’ve already received and the extracurricular activities you’ve already participated in won’t change, but your essay is what you make it.
Associate Director of Admissions Christina DeCario looks for clues about an applicant’s personality, college preparedness and writing skills in the admissions essay. Here, DeCario and English professor Whitney Adams offer tips for you to impress admissions counselors with your essay, show that you’re capable of college-level writing and (bonus) come extra prepared for your required first-year English course.
1. Look at it as an opportunity.
“The essay is a very important part of the holistic review process,” DeCario says. “If your profile is a little uneven, like you’re successful outside the classroom but your grades aren’t quite there, or you’re the valedictorian but you’re not a good test taker, the essay can push you from a maybe to a yes. Just show us you’ll bring something unique to campus.”
RELATED: 8 Do’s and Don’ts of College Admissions Essays
2. Be confident in your writing.
Adams has noticed that many students she works with aren’t confident in their writing abilities. “If you write without confidence, you’re not convincing yourself or your reader, so find your own writing voice and trust yourself,” she advises.
3. Show, don’t tell.
“Include something I won’t get from your transcript,” DeCario suggests. “I know what you’re interested in studying and where you live from your application. Use the essay to give me insight into your personality by providing anecdotes that give me something new.”
4. Don’t go over the word limit.
It may seem obvious, but much of high school writing is based on a minimum number of pages or words, while the admissions essay has a maximum (500 words). “It forces you to be succinct, so write efficiently,” Adams says.
5. Proofread three ways.
DeCario recommends that you “proofread. Have someone else proofread. Then read it out loud to yourself. When you proofread, you should check for grammar and sentence structure. When someone else proofreads they will be looking for clarity in the essay. When you read it out loud, you’ll catch errors or even entire missing words like ‘a’ or ‘and’ that you didn’t catch when you read it in your head.”
6. If you make a claim, back it up.
Eyes on the prize
This is an easy way to show what you’ve learned from writing in high school. “The biggest problem I come across in my classes is students making statements without backing them up with evidence,” Adams says.
This may or may not apply to your essay, but if you do make claims that you can’t prove without an outside source, make sure you include evidence.
7. Explain why.
“I focus a lot on the question, ‘so what?’ in my classes,” Adams explains. “Why does it matter, why is it important? You have to look at a subject, even if you are the subject, critically to be able to answer that question, but it’s the question that readers care about most.”
8. Have a conclusion.
Make sure to wrap up your points in a way that’s true to the rest of the essay. “So many essays start off well, the second and third paragraphs are solid, and then they just end,” DeCario says. “You need to explain why you told me all the things you wrote about earlier in the essay. Relate it to yourself and the essay question.”
9. Answer the question…
“Let’s say you’re asked to describe yourself in one word: then describe yourself in one word. Don’t describe yourself in two words and don’t say you can’t describe yourself in one word because there’s a word for that – undefined – and because that’s what we asked you to do. It also relates to college preparedness. If a professor asks you to describe yourself in one word and you describe yourself in two, then you’ve failed.”
10. … The whole question
If an essay question is two parts, “keep the entire question in mind,” DeCario recommends. Make sure that you’re providing a thorough answer to the prompt.