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Articles / Applying to College / Selling Yourself in Your Applications

Aug. 18, 2018

Selling Yourself in Your Applications

Selling Yourself in Your Applications
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Well, it's the middle of August. In a matter of days, most rising high school seniors will be starting their final high school years. This is where you may find that time speeds up. It's like you are suddenly on fast-forward. The days rush by in a blur -- and applications will be due before you know it.

Are you a rising senior? For those of you applying to college choosing the Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) route, those early November application deadlines will hover like a shroud over you as you try to decide on a Halloween costume. If you've been diligent over the summer, you may have already written your Common Application essay and reviewed and possibly completed other requirements of your applications. If so, my hat's off to you, even though I rarely wear a hat!


This is a heads-up, then, for EA- and ED- planning seniors to get with it now, rather than letting your application-prep sand slip through the hourglass. Obviously, those of you choosing Regular Decision (RD) will, in most cases, have until early January to get your act together, but even putting off your RD applications past Thanksgiving can easily ruin what should be a happy and relaxing year-end holiday break.

Now, this will sound “preachy," I'm sure, but I've said it before and will no doubt say it again: Most well-prepared rising seniors use the summer before their senior year to square away their thoughts about which colleges they will pursue and what details are involved in doing that. Granted, summer is almost gone, but there is still time to do some critical preparation before the rush of a new school year and its related activities roar out of the starting gate.

Of course, as I'm sure you know, the Common Application is the requirement for most colleges these days, although there are some exceptions. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of college admissions is revealing to the admissions committees who you are and how you think. Probably the best way to do this is through your essays. The Common Application requires you to write a significant essay in response to one of a number of different prompts. You'll also have to answer some so-called “short responses."

You May Have to Tackle Multiple Essays

The Common Application may also require long supplemental essays, which are needed by many colleges, especially the most competitive ones. This extra writing may further tax your ability to present your best personal qualities. There may be additional questions about the more subtle aspects of who you are. In light of all this, then, the purpose of my advice here is to give you some guidelines to help you reveal qualities about yourself that you may not have thought of before.

What follows is a series of questions that will help you pull those formerly little-known features about your personality, humor and other qualities out of the dark and into the light of your applications. It's a kind of personal inventory. I've mentioned this before and will note it again in the future because with it I've had great success using it in my admissions counseling work. Seniors discover aspects about themselves that they had overlooked or taken for granted. These aspects are the key building blocks for marketing your profile to colleges in your applications.

Once you've answered the questions below, you'll be able to use the information in any number of places on your applications. Copy this questionnaire and paste it into your word processor. Then, print it out and work on your responses, or type your answers directly into the file.

Take your time and be as expansive as possible. Even though there are some obvious questions here (name, email address, etc.), fill out all information. Keep in mind that you're presenting who you are to people who have never met you. Here we go …

Senior Year Inventory

- Name:

- Email address:

– You are a US citizen or permanent resident. Yes _____ No _____

– First language: ____________

– What other languages, if any, do you speak fluently? ____________

– What is your high school's track record for sending its graduates to the Ivies and other elite colleges? Can you cite some specific outcomes from recent graduating classes? ____________

– Does your school's college counselor have a lot of experience with elite college admissions? Do you have a good relationship with your counselor? His/her recommendation will be crucial. Will your rec from him/her be top notch? ____________

The following “hodge-podge" questions will help us get to know you a bit better. Don't obsess over your answers. Write what first comes to mind, and don't worry about grammar, spelling or sentence structure. Have fun with these.

– What single achievement are you most proud of? (It could be something “public" like being a student-government officer or something far more personal, like teaching yourself how to do a back dive or learning to get along with a stepparent.) ____________

– What's the most difficult thing you've had to do in your life? ____________

– What do you do better than almost anyone else? (Again, it could be a highly visible achievement like leading the basketball team in scoring, or perhaps you're the only one in your family who can get your little brother to eat broccoli.) ____________

– What's the nicest thing you've ever done for anyone? (Name a few, if several come to mind.) ____________

– What do you think your teachers say about you when you're not around? ____________

– What do you think your friends say about you when you're not around? ____________

– What do you worry about most (besides college admissions)? ____________

– What really makes you laugh? ____________

– What's your all-time favorite book and why? ____________

– What are your favorite foods? What foods do you avoid (or even spit out)? ____________

– Where do you think you will be and what will you be doing 10 years from now? ____________

– If you could do one thing over in your life, what would it be and why? ____________

– If a highly-selective college had to pick between you and one other applicant, why should they pick you? (Elaborate on this one a bit. Don't make it too short. Be both serious and funny, if you can. Feel free to make a list of five or 10 reasons why they should take you and not the other candidate.) ____________

Mine the Inventory for Essays, Applications

If you take time to answer all these questions carefully and in depth, you'll have a solid arsenal of material to use in your applications, especially in those sometimes challenging Common App supplemental essays and short responses. As I mentioned above, it's common for seniors to overlook important and interesting aspects of their lives to-date. These questions are designed to dig out noteworthy events, opinions, choices and actions, some of which may attract an admissions committee's attention.

Once again for emphasis: Your goal in your applications is to tell those admissions committees who you are and how you think. This inventory will help you do that. Plus, as an added bonus, the information you gather on this questionnaire can be quite helpful for admission interviews, should you encounter them during your college process.

So, what are you waiting for? Stop texting and start thinking!

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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