Getting into college is hard right now. We all know this. It’s hard enough to maintain a high GPA and dominate your SAT and ACT, and it’s even harder to do these things while staying involved and philanthropic – you know, the things that make a perfect student. Not only do you need to do all of these hard things perfectly, but then you’ve got to succinctly package up all that perfection with a neat little bow in the form of a perfect college application. Right? That’s a tall order.
What if I told you that there’s actually something that can trump perfect in the college admissions world? It’s true – there’s actually something more important than being perfect, and that’s being interesting. And even better? Being interesting is actually attainable.
Don’t get me wrong… to get into a good school, you do need an excellent GPA, strong test scores, and plenty of extracurriculars. Those are all crucial. However, your application – specifically your essay and short answers – shouldn’t simply restate how amazing your academic stats are. These are your opportunities to show an admissions counselor that yes, you’re an impressive student, but more importantly, you’re an interesting, refreshing, exceptional human being.
Recently, Duke University announced that they’d received more than 41,000 applications this year. They predict they’ll admit roughly six percent of those applicants. Six percent. Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s dean of undergraduate admissions, told The Chronicle something enlightening about their admissions process.
“At this point the pool is so large and so robust that a minimum of 75 percent of students we admit score in the 99th percentile,” Guttentag explained. “We have the luxury of choosing the interesting students from among the smart ones.”
So what does this tell us? It tells us that an essay spent restating your test scores or highlighting your involvement in sports and clubs is an essay wasted. It says that a short answer explaining how academically motivated you are is a dime a dozen. Instead, the admissions counselors want to learn something completely new, either about you, your culture, your experiences, or your goals. Show them the gifts you offer the world outside of the classroom. Tell them a fascinating story about your family that they’d never know otherwise. Painting yourself as the perfect student is precisely how you blend in, but you need to focus on how you can stand out.