In our experience working with hundreds of thousands of students from different geographic, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, what we can definitively tell you is that the landscape of college admissions has become increasingly more competitive with every passing year. This doesn’t even factor in admissions complications due to coronavirus. A good GPA and solid SAT score were previously sufficient for admission to even the most prestigious colleges. The reality today is that meeting such academic criteria, while definitely necessary, is simply not enough. Upon hearing this, students will hurriedly sign up for any and every school activity they can possibly claw onto. Debate, soccer, show choir, you name it, someone is doing it. A very popular option is the time-honored summer education program. But what do you do in a year when these programs aren’t being offered?
Parents will “encourage” [force] their kids to take up every single volunteer opportunity, apply for those hard-to-pronounce research competitions, attend multiple summer programs, and essentially do anything and everything to pad their resume. Parents, please don’t do this. Besides the fact that resume padding will not contribute to even a semblance of growth for you personally, doing so will simply not help you with college admissions. What WILL help is developing an authentic personal story. You can do this by centering your application around one to two core interests, instead of bombarding your application with seventeen different things.
Are you the theater kid? Or, are you perhaps the writer kid because you enjoy writing short stories and poetry? Are you an athlete? A musician? A chef? During this global pandemic, several students have messaged me asking how they should spend their summer given that a variety of formal summer academic program offerings have been cancelled.
Develop your Story
My answer? The best thing you can possibly do is develop your story. Here’s how. If you’re unsure what your story should be, simply think about your passions. These are the areas in your life where you spend most of your time, or what your heart pulls you to do. It may just be one activity or it could be a couple. It may be things you do at school, or things outside of school (babysitting, jobs, activism, etc.). No one activity or interest is better than another.
In other words, liking math is no better or worse than liking cooking. What matters is how committed you are to the theme you choose to center your application around. How do you figure this out? Well, string together all the things that you do genuinely. Things that you’d still participate in if you didn’t have to fill out a college application. Things you’d spend a free Saturday diving into. Then remove all the things you do just because Reddit told you that every Harvard admit has it on their application or because Instagram showed you your friend from the next town over is doing it.
If you heed my advice, what you’ll find is your application will become less “resume-y” and more authentic. That’s what you want. Let’s think about this logically for a second. Don’t you think that an admission office who reviews 50,000 applications each year and has been doing their job for five years will have come across every single possible activity, essay topic, or interview hack you could find on Google?
Be Unique – Be You
What they’ve never seen before, however, is you. What they’ve never seen before is your story. Putting together a successful college application starts with giving yourself permission to be the most “you” you can be. Don’t worry about summer education program cancellations. Use this time to accept, become comfortable, and then act on this reality. Best of luck!