I just ran across a blog I wrote and never posted. It’s about how to help your college application essay get noticed. When I discovered it yesterday, sitting in my files, patiently waiting for me to recall its existence, I realized it’s the perfect post for this time of year. The 2017 Common Application essay prompts have just been published, and while February’s too soon to start writing it is time to start thinking about how you can make your essay stand out.
After a bit of tweaking, this is the post:
A lot of students ask me this question:
How do I get colleges to notice me? There are so many qualified applicants, how do I stand out?
Here’s what I—and lots of my colleagues—say:
It’s got to be about you. Not just what you do, not necessarily what you’ve accomplished. You.
What does that mean?
In an Ivy Admissions article posted on College Confidential, Karl Furstenberg, former Dartmouth College Dean of Admissions, says that in order to separate well-qualified candidates he looks “at the intangibles.” Intangibles go beyond what you can quantify (measure), like grades, accomplishments, or even an activity list.
It’s like judging a music competition where all the competitors play the correct keys. In order to choose the best, the judges must look beyond the notes. They look for what moves them.
College applicants must display their “musicianship”—“those personal aspects that add nuance and passion to the application.” In pianistic terms, the article says, “they must perform the notes that lie between the keys.”
“Between the keys” is who you are: What are you values? What do you stand for? What do you care about? Where does your heart lie? These are the intangibles that schools look for in your college application essays. This is what will separate you from the crowd.
If you want to stand out, start by figuring out “who am I?” and “what do I want the colleges to know about me?” Make a list of your positive qualities. Write down examples of how you’ve demonstrated them in your life. List what you love, from your rock collection to your family to your dream of flying in space. Everyone’s list will be different. That’s the point. It needs to be about you.
Make sure you take the time to think, brainstorm, and understand why you care about what you do. Take the time to find yourself between the keys.
Because the difference probably isn’t going to be your grades. It’s going to be you.
Find your story. Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She’s a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee who teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype, Facetime and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.