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How to Live Your College Admissions Story

We really enjoyed our conversation with Hamada Zahawi, Founder of Write Track Admissions, as we discussed the power of “the story” and how students have an opportunity to be more than just a fit on paper. Crafting an essay and application to clearly differentiate yourself from other applicants is a challenge. More importantly, writing an engaging, inspiring, and thoughtful essay about who you really are is a daunting thought. Many people are not used to “bragging” about their accomplishments or sharing the road map for how they got to where they are. We are fearful of revealing our true selves. In many ways, it is the hardest task we can undertake yet at the same time it should be the easiest one in the sense that we know ourselves the best and who better to advocate for ourselves than us. If you have a high school student or even a college student applying for internships, grad school, or jobs, share this post with them.

 

college essays

 

When I decided to apply to college I had the right grades but not the ideal SAT. In fact, my scores (yes, I took it three times) were sub-par for most of the major universities in the U.S. I had little choice but to focus on my application and absolutely perfect it. Anything less would severely reduce my chances of admissions.

 

The reality is, this same scenario of great grades but poor standardized scores continued to haunt me when I later applied to law school and grad school. Yet, I overcome seemingly all odds to gain admissions to UCSB (transferring to UCLA), Berkeley Law, University of Cambridge, and Harvard! How did I do this? It was all about my story!

 

Why does your story matter?

Today a high SAT and GPA are simply not enough. Just look at the scores and acceptance rates below to get a sense of what you may be up against!

college admissions

 

college admissions

 

So with increasing competition means you have to find other ways to truly stand out. Moreover, colleges are looking for more than just IQ: they are looking for well-rounded candidates who possess both IQ AND EQ (emotional intelligence). Indeed, colleges are looking for these qualities/traits from their students (by no means an exhaustive list):

  • Leadership/Teamwork
  • Motivation
  • Compassion
  • Creativity
  • Vulnerability
  • Tolerance/Open-mindedness

There is no better way to do this than in the story you tell to showcase who you are and make your case for why you are the best applicant for their school! In my opinion, it is a truly cathartic process. By living and writing out your story, you actually figure out your true values, which will then help you understand your future goals and consequently what you need to study in college to fulfill those goals!

 

For over a decade we have been helping applicants from across the world craft their unique story by applying our proprietary WriteStory methodology. But before you can even put pen to paper you have to live your story.

 

How do you live YOUR story?

Be Proactive! That’s it. If you wait for life to happen, chances are it will just pass you by. You have to make life happen! This may sound odd but it’s what we have been advising applicants for years with great success.

 

So what does this really mean? You have to be mindful of and eager to engage in activities and life experiences that you can later talk about in your applications to each college. This starts with the following:

 

  • Extracurricular Activities: What activities you are undertaking to exhibit leadership, teamwork, self-motivation, creativity? How are you personally growing through these activities? What are you learning about yourself and your values?
  • Volunteer Activities: How are you giving back to society? How are these activities showcasing your compassion and empathy towards others? How are your volunteer activities building your level of tolerance and open-mindedness?
  • Professional Activities: What are you learning about the professional space? How is this helping you be more responsible and a better team player? How are these experiences shaping what you want to do in the future?
  • Academic Activities: How are you showcasing your aptitude, how well-rounded you are, and your level of diverse interests and academic passions? Are there classes, academic clubs, competitions helping you narrow the focus of what you want to study in college?
  • Summer Activities: What activities are you doing over the summer(s) before college? Are these activities helping you expand your networks, learn about different schools, better understand various fields of study, helping give back to the community?
  • Life Experiences: What challenges have you faced, hardships overcome? Have you had certain experiences that truly set you apart, that allowed you to be vulnerable, that has helped you grow as a person?

 

As you can see, these activities are ACTIVE! Meaning you have to go out of your way to sign-up, engage, excel, learn hands-on, and grow from each and every activity. This is how you LIVE your story!

 

What’s the first step?

There are many ways to start but here are a few key things you should be doing whether you are a high school freshman or a rising high school senior.

 

Keep a journal: Every time you finish an activity or have an epiphany or want to just write about your life experiences then write it down in the journal (we advise a Google document that you can access from anywhere, where you can freely edit and share to your discretion). This is MISSION CRITICAL! Otherwise, you will forget that one formative experience, that incredibly eye-opening interaction, that moment where you felt rock-bottom or made a terrible mistake and learned from it. Keep this as a running journal up until you start your application. Trust me, it will serve you well and help you jump start your application by matching your unique experience to the relevant question in the college application.

 

Review past application questions of desired college(s): There is no reason you can’t access past questions of your favorite colleges. This will help you get a better sense of what they are looking for in their applicants, how you need to shape and apply your story to stand out. You can access these questions from the college’s website or at your high school counselor’s office.

 

Be proactive: I think you get the idea already. But again please engage, grow, learn through activities on- and off-campus. This will help you tremendously to figure out who you are, your values, your brand, your life goals and your academic pursuits.

 

COMPASS: Recognizing how this process of developing your story can be overwhelming, Write Track has created the College Orientation & Mentorship Pre-Application Services (COMPASS) to help you plan out your high school years (activities, classes, leadership, etc) to make sure you the most competitive college-bound candidate possible.

  

We hope this helps you get on the right track in terms of creating the most important part of your application, namely your story. I can’t emphasize this enough, living your story will help you learn who you are, what you love, what you want to do, and what you will eventually study in college! Remember, there are no shortcuts to living your story, so get started today!

 

If you would like to share your story or expertise with College Scoops, send us an email at hello@collegescoops.com.

 

Hamada Zahawi, Founder of Write Track Admissions, graduated  from UCLA (B.A.), University of Cambridge (MPhil International Relations – Honors), UC Berkeley Law (J.D.) (CA Bar) and Harvard University (Masters in Public Administration).

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