On the College Scoops Podcast Episode 97: 5 Minutes to Tell Your Story, Moira McCullough is joined by Guest Eleanora Ferrante to discuss how high school students can effectively tell their story in a college application. Many students spend years building their resume by taking rigorous classes, participating in extracurriculars, and volunteering to gain community service hours. Yet, the reality is that admissions officers will spend an average of five minutes on each application before moving on to the next one. With only five minutes, how should students tell their story in a way that will stand out?
As a college admissions counselor and a former admissions liaison for Cornell University, Ferrante has gained a wealth of experience working with students and guiding them towards success. First, it’s important to realize that the college application process is a two way street. Colleges are looking for candidates that will add value to their community and students are looking for a school where they will thrive both inside and outside of the classroom. Ferrante notes that it’s supposed to be a “mutual symbiotic relationship. We are both helping each other to grow to be better”. Therefore, it comes down to whether or not it is the right fit for both parties.
Your Application is a Marketing Tool
In order for candidates to put their best foot forward, it is imperative to first evaluate what story you want to convey and to make sure that it always remains authentic to who you are as a person. Your application is a marketing tool. Take full advantage of it by not leaving any white spaces. A student’s transcript will be evaluated to see where their academic strengths and interests lie. In terms of what a student does outside of the classroom, admissions officers “look at your activities to see not that you’re well-rounded, but that you’re well-developed”. By honing in on a couple of key interests, instead of spreading yourself thin over a bunch of different extracurriculars, a student will be able to demonstrate intention and highlight their passions.
Your Application is a Marketing Tool
A student’s college essay plays a pivotal role in their application because it is a space to tell the rest of your story. Pick a topic or interest to write about that the admissions officer wouldn’t otherwise know about you. The goal is to demonstrate who you are, what you love to do, or why something is important to you. Don’t be afraid to take risks in your application and be willing to share. Oftentimes, students are afraid to be vulnerable and don’t have a lot of experience doing so. Writing a college essay can also seem daunting because it is very different from papers that students write in school. While school papers often follow a particular pattern and structure, student’s don’t need to do the same in their college essay. Instead, the college essay is intended to be a space where students can be free to write a story without bounds.
Other Ways to Highlight Your Skills
There are also other opportunities to highlight a student’s skills or background. For some schools, they will accept portfolios from creative and artistic students. Selecting teachers or college counselors to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf is also crucial because these are the people who will go to bat for you, provide context to your backstory, and attest to your character and work ethic.
As students navigate the college admissions process, parents are oftentimes involved in it as well. However, Ferrante reminds parents to take a step back from the process and trust that your child will succeed. Have faith that they will end up where they are meant to be, even if it is at a school that you did not expect. At the end of the day, this is the student’s journey to learn, grow, and navigate the next chapter in their life.
Check out this U.S. News & World Reports article to learn more about how to stand out in college admissions.
Key Takeaway Scoop: College applications are meant to be used as bragging tools. The goal is to demonstrate who you are and what you love to do, and you must make yourself stand out from other students in order to catch an admissions counselor’s eye. Do not be afraid to tackle a difficult subject in your college essay, and remember that there are other ways to set yourself apart. Any and every part of your application is meaningful, so long as you are putting your best foot forward.