In the heat of a job search, one uses resumes, cover letters, elevator pitches, references and interviews to reveal who one is, what type of work one can perform and, most importantly, how one will add value to a prospective company.
Done cohesively, credibly and convincingly, the searcher will meet with success. If, however, the job searcher’s tools fail to portray the job seeker as a vital, determined value creator, there is a strong likelihood that there will be hungry, difficult times ahead.
Like the job search, the search for admissions is demanding, especially among the most selective schools. You may or may not know what the school’s admissions department is searching for: linguists, pole vaulters, graphic artists or violinists. You do know, however, no matter what the departments might seek in skills, all schools, everywhere, are always in need promising candidates with demonstrated academic interest, creativity, commitment to their community, leadership, and originality.
Your application needs to explicitly show how you are exceptional and unique and endowed with the aforementioned qualities. Clear examples of activities that you’re interested in are essential. This cannot be done in a stilted or artificial manner. Your real self, with all its idiosyncrasies and quirks, needs to be revealed to the admissions reader. It’s essential that the candidate pop off the page in three dimensions.
One big difference between the job and admissions search is that the job seeker’s resume has the objective stated boldly at the top. College applications don’t, yet the intent of the applicant needs to be crystal clear to the admissions readers: it needs to be fully woven into the theme of the application
Karen Spencer, a former admissions officer at Georgetown University, in the book The New Rules of College Admissions, focuses on the need to create a ‘strong and consistent’ theme. So strong, in fact, that were a stranger to pick up your application and read all its elements, she would quickly grasp your interests.
Special emphasis needs to be placed on ‘quickly’.
For though many hours of sweat go into creating the essays, producing the activity list and generating the recommendations, all these likely will be read by the admissions officer in 5 to, possibly, 30 minutes. If you’re applying single choice early action to Stanford, a senior admission officer might take 1-2 minutes to sort you application into its appropriate pile after a ‘quick read’.
At some schools, such as Georgetown or Harvard, borderline applications might be presented to an admissions committee. Yet to even make it this far, your application needs a theme. Without one, the admissions director, who is the first reader of your application, will not know how to advocate on your behalf should the value of your candidacy be debated in committee.
Many high school students are unsure what it is professionally they want to be. Life is a series of best guesses that on occasion come to fruition. Jump into something with both feet and chance it. That’s a sign of an adventurous spirit: one willing to be bold and explore. This alone is a quality in short supply everywhere.
To gain a sense of how to create an application theme, a candidate needs to start concentrating on an area of interest early in high school so that the theme, say in business—one of the most popular college majors, can be formed.
Business is a potpourri of skills. Your theme will evolve from your transcript, summer courses geared to business, clubs and leadership positions—such as in the FBLA, academic projects—such as creating a business plan and implementing it, competitions—such as the Diamond Challenge, and serious thought about what area of business might best fit your talents.
The key is to select activities and efforts that reflect your interests. The process is all about you and what it is you seek to become. The more you dedicate yourself to this molding of your application theme, the more you will control your destiny and uncover what it is you truly want to be. There are few activities more important in this life.