Introduction

Your high school days are winding down. The finish line’s in sight. And let it be said – the race has been as challenging as it has been rewarding.

Finish Line

Oh Yea!

Your junior year came packed with tough assignments and situations. Family, friends, and school shaped you. Life threw a bunch of curveballs. And you finally grew up.

The next chapter of your life is going to continue the climb. In the span of just four years you will re-define who you are, make lifelong friends, and get a big glimpse at what the larger world has to offer. If you enjoyed high school, you’ll find even more to love about college. If you couldn’t wait to leave high school, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make a fresh start as an undergrad.

Before you embark, though, there is one final barrier to entry – the college application.

The million-dollar question is this

How can I package my life into a typed document?

The way most students see it, there’s no simple answer. They imagine all the possible ways they could respond, plus all of the good and bad ways the reader could interpret their writing.

Girl with Anxiety

Surrounded by options.

But you for one are up to the challenge. You want what college has to offer – new challenges, new opportunities, new people to meet, glory, and excitement. So effort is not the issue.

The real question is more fundamental

Can you get into the schools you want to go to?

You have that one, ideal scenario worked out in your mind where you get accepted to your dream school, open doors with your prestigious diploma, and build an amazing life forever after.

Then you have the day-to-day reality where you are constantly comparing yourself to classmates. ‘Where do I stand?’ becomes the theme of the day.  You’ve come to some sort of conclusion by now that college admissions is pretty fair, that amazing students will get into amazing schools and that everyone else will fall into place.

Believe it or not, that is not true

College acceptances are not based on what you know about yourself and your peers.

In fact, they are not even based on real life really. The admissions officer doesn’t know who is popular at your school, who answers all the tough questions in class, who is an amazing singer, or who everyone goes to for homework help. The only reality they see is that which is contained within the document.

Amazed Guy

Diamond II in League of Legends? Accept!

For this reason, college admissions is about one thing above all: successful communication. No matter who you are or how you stand among your peers, you can produce something that blows away your competition. The forms are alive with instructions, but the college application itself is very much a blank slate. A place for you to create the best you. What’s being judged is not your actual life, but your words, the words of your references, and some numbers packaged together. Therefore,

If you’re the star student
Your real work is coming up ahead, and it’s not going to be like anything you were used to before. You may be at the top of your class, but you still have to convince a total stranger that you’ve actually got what it takes.
If you’re a pretty-good student
You can get into better schools than more academically-qualified students. Easily. If your application is done right. You are the main character in the admissions scene, and colleges spend most of their time figuring out which fraction of you gets elevated to the major league.
If your academic record is just ‘decent’
You’d still be pretty surprised by how far a good application will carry you. You’re the wild card. Every year, a significant number of outliers get accepted because despite inconsistent records or circumstances, they still managed to shine. You can too.

Applying to college is not an academic assignment. It is a marketing one. It is about selling your personality and your experiences. There are countless other applicants out there, and your primary objective is to get yourself noticed and remembered. You can do so by rousing up strong, positive emotions in your reader.

Getting admitted comes down to two simple things

Being interesting, and backing up your personality with credentials

Don’t think of the personal statement as an essay. Get in the mindset of writing stories – good stories – that you would feel proud of sharing with others. Carry that forward with you, and you won’t ever have to worry about losing your direction.

Summary of 1.1 Find Your Groove

  • There is no need to let chance and luck dictate your college admissions outcome. Take hold of the steering wheel and learn to how to control the process.
  • Being successful on the college application requires that you become a good communicator. It involves practical strategies – not skills or talents, and not books. In fact, how well you do on the application has nothing to do at all with your high school performance. It’s more about your flexibility – and your willingness to think in a new way.
  • There’s a ‘best’ side to everyone. This is the side of you that inspires curiosity, gains respect, and gets others to relate to you. This is the side that you will want to present to the universities. 

Next: The Role of the Essay