Your College Application Narrative
A lot of factors contribute to a college application narrative, and not all of them are grades. Grades are important, but colleges also look for students who have impressive lives outside of the classroom. How will you stand out in a sea of test scores and numbers?
Imagine that colleges are looking for the next student to name a classroom or dorm building after. This type of student excels in their lives and in their classrooms. This type of student has an active role in their community, leaves an impression on their peers, and makes a real difference.
You don’t have to do all of those things, but those are the things that colleges want in their students. They don’t just want great students; they want great students that do a little extra. You don’t have to be a superhero, but you should stand out.
Developing your college application is a huge self-reflective exercise. As you develop your application, you will be developing a narrative about yourself that highlights your strengths and life experiences. You’ll be telling the story of yourself as a capable student with passions, interests, and ambitions. Colleges won’t glean all of that just from grades!
This narrative focuses on two main questions: how did you get where you are, and where are you trying to go?
To tell colleges who you are, tell them the story of how you got to where you are right now. What hardships have you overcome? What does your home life look like? How have your experiences shaped who you are as a person? How has your culture or community influenced you?
Tell the colleges a story of how you came to be, and how incredible it is that you are who you are.
Telling colleges where you want to go shows them your ambitions and drives. Colleges don’t want to hear that your dream is to attend college, play video games, or the typical “I don’t know”. Your narrative needs a happy ending where you’ve achieved your dream. What is that dream?
This narrative you’re crafting should reflect in your activities and accomplishments. Imagine your dream is an essay topic, and your activities and accomplishments are your scholarly sources you pull quotes from. Your essay will get an F without sources, and your dream won’t matter much to colleges unless you’ve got the credentials to back it up.
Somewhere in this narrative, you need to include the college you’re applying to. Talk about the experience you’d like to get out of college, and what you’re going to do with the knowledge you gain. More importantly to a specific application, though, talk about why you chose that college.
The main star of your narrative will be your college application essay. When I said that your activities and accomplishments were like sources in an essay, I wasn’t entirely kidding. Your college application is the story of your life, summed up in one short anecdote filled with feeling and meaning.
Your college essay can look like anything; this won’t be the standard 5 paragraph essays you’ve written in high school. I won’t cover the specifics of what a college application essay is (that’s another article entirely), but your narrative is the star of this essay, and your essay is the star of your narrative.
In this essay, you’ll show a college exactly who you are and where you’re going, briefly. Talk about your passions, possibly even your dream career.
Any application essay can have sweeping statements about the importance of college and the value of education in achieving your dream. What colleges want to hear is what specific value you will get from their college. Between where you are now and your narrative’s happy ending, there’s a college. Which one is it, and why?
Choosing colleges is a very important part of admission. Colleges don’t let just anybody in, and you don’t need to waste time and energy on colleges you don’t want to get into.
Many students apply to their first-choice colleges, then pick out other ones at random. Because you wouldn’t go to that place, even if they accepted you, why even apply?
Instead, put real effort into each college choice. They don’t all have to be perfect, but they should fit into your narrative. Maybe your narrative brings you to a city/state you didn’t expect; maybe your narrative has you going to a large school when you would’ve picked a small one.
Whatever the variation is, don’t sacrifice your passion and dream career for the sake of one school, and don’t apply to schools you don’t want to get in to.
No matter what your college application narrative’s happy ending is, the narrative is an important part of it. Craft your narrative, tell your story, and aim to impress. You’ve got this!
Author: Hastings Davin