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Move From Impressive to Intriguing in your College Applications
Jeannette Webb is founder of Aiming Higher Consultants, a high school planning and college consulting firm dedicated to helping homeschooled students reach their potential and successfully apply to their dream colleges. Learn more at aiminghigherconsultants.com. Jeannette is also the mother of two homeschool graduates who both went on to highly selective colleges, and she was our keynote speakers two summers ago at our PHAA High School at Home summer conference. We know many very happy families who've worked with her closely during the college application process, including many of the students in our Advanced Placement online courses (including international homeschoolers) as well as students in the PHAA diploma program here in PA. She's terrific!
[photo by Susan Richman, taken on Nov 2012 trip to Israel... what makes one rock more interesting than the next?]
It is autumn and my clients from around the world are working hard on presenting a winning application to the college of their dreams. And, some are shocked by the advice I give them.
If you want to catch an admissions officer's attention, seek to intrigue rather than impress.
What do I mean by that?
Your story (the compilation of essays, short answer questions, activity profile, counselor letter, teacher recommendations, school profile, transcript legend, and interviews) needs to be seamless. They should all agree with each other, but each piece doesn’t highlight the same things. It should give colleges a glimpse into your life that catches their attention and we do that by making it interesting, not by pounding them over the head with your accomplishments.
It’s amazing how often I have to rein mothers in! I totally understand because after 12 years of catching flack for homeschooling my kids I wanted to brag too!! But, we can’t go there. Trust me. Over and over again, I have to tell moms to tone down their counselor letter, to take out the 12 URL links to videos of their child’s activities, to NOT upload a 15-page resume to the application, and to certainly not expect admissions officers to read through a scrapbook of ribbons and newspaper clippings. Essays deteriorate quickly when parents are pushing for a resume in prose – putting in all accomplishments in some form of narrative.
Don’t get me wrong. For competitive colleges you need stellar test scores. Your GPA needs to be superb. You must have a strong activity profile described in powerful words that showcases leadership acumen, community spirit, or entrepreneurial panache.
But, you have to present it in the right way.
Where to Brag
If we select our recommenders carefully, their letters will be filled with over the top bragging about how amazing you are. Let them do it, not you. We want to present an accurate, comprehensive list of your most important activities via the college application on the Activity Section and sometimes attaching a more thorough resume in the Additional Information Section. However, it is sometimes wise to eliminate some minor activities that just confuse the issue.
Where NOT to Brag
Student’s essays need to be winsome and catch an admissions officer’s eye. Good ones normally deal with a very limited topic, are incredibly well written, very interesting, and insightful. They show a unique vantage point, a lesson learned, a growth experience-- all in a way that is humble and touching.
A homeschooling counselor’s letter need to show development over a lifetime, put the student in context for the college, talk about growth through weakness, and can even share comments from others. It tells the back-story of success, but doesn’t list the successes too much.
The interview needs to show that you are an interesting, engaging person, able to laugh at yourself and understand your experiences. It is fine to carry a copy of your resume into an interview for their reference point, but let it speak for itself. You are there to confirm that the paper version of you is true. They will probably ask about some of your activities, but you would be wise to share what you learned about yourself as well as the facts about the activity.
Remember, competitive colleges see literally thousands of impressive kids. Catch their attention by being intriguing!
Jeannette Webb is founder of Aiming Higher Consultants, a high school planning and college consulting firm dedicated to helping homeschooled students reach their potential and successfully apply to their dream colleges. Learn more at aiminghigherconsultants.com