Presenting Your Case
using your application to put your individuality in focus
So, you have earned the grades that have placed you in the top of your class. You have taken the SAT and are pleased with your scores. You may be thinking that your job is done. Think again.
The difficult reality in highly selective admission is that selective universities receive applications from far more qualified candidates than they could possibly accommodate in their freshman class. Each year, applicants who have met all the "objective criteria" are turned away from selective schools.
Now, do not stop reading at this point and resign yourself to fate or luck. Our point is not made to discourage you from applying to selective institutions, but rather to empower you to strengthen your application through the way in which you highlight your attributes.
The application process does give you room to present yourself in a way that is more than your test scores and GPA. The application itself is a means for you to speak about all of the hard work that you have been doing these past twelve years of your academic life.
Your application should be one package with a clear distinct voice emerging from the pages of your transcript, activity résumé, recommendation, and essay. In short, tell your potential university that you have a heartbeat. Show them that you are waking up every morning for a greater purpose than a good grade.
First, the application process should not be a cut-and-paste game in which you blindly take your board scores and transcript and place them into an application. You should be highlighting what you want the counselor to know about you.
Do not assume that because you have an A in science that the admission officer will know you are passionate about the sciences. Some people in your class may have received As and may not even enjoy science. Do not assume that because you volunteer in a hospital that an admission committee will know that this is where you have grown the most in your personal development.
If you are passionate about the sciences, you could have someone from that department write your recommendation. This person could speak to reality of this passion in everyday life. For example, he or she might comment on your enthusiastic class participation. The recommendation might explain that you regularly stay after class to ask more questions on the subject.
Your activities should highlight your academic passion. You can make a direct link between this passion and your activities. For example, perhaps you are passionate about marine biology and have even volunteered with Greenpeace to protect arctic waters. This is a clear example of how your extracurricular and academic interests intersect. Even if the link is not so clear, the passion should be evident. Your commitment over time to a particular activity often leads to increased responsibilities and leadership positions within the organization.
Your essay, as you can expect, should be the most explicit expression of this passion. "Explicit" does not mean "descriptive." You should not take this essay as a time to describe the physical characteristics of the people who have influenced you. The essay should address how you have become so motivated and/or what this passion explicitly means to you. A question about your identity can reveal the intellectual fires that have made you successful. Again, convince the admission committee that you are more than a set of numbers.
Finally, do not choose your recommender because you think he or she is the most impressive person to write about you. If the person does not know who you are, then neither will we.
In short, be active with the whole application process. Make sure that you are telling the admission committee who you are and what makes you special. By following this process, you will not only present yourself in the strongest light, but you will have gone through a reflective process that is necessary for any lifelong intellectual journey.