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Recipes for Summertime, Part Three

July 26, 2009

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

I've come home every summer from school to hang out with my family and work. It's a far trip, and I don't really like being in Hawaii, but I miss them, so I come home.

The last two summers, we've had brief excursions to the mainland for weddings, and my family planned some college visits with my brother when we were there. Last summer, when in California, I got to join them on a tour at Stanford, among other places.

I was totally overwhelmed with the university, in a good way. The best things that I took from that visit, though, were in the question and answer session, which seems to be standard issue at the end of college tours. I really wish I had experienced the college tour, but I guess that just made me all the more excited for college in general. An air of mystery didn't seem like a totally bad thing at the time, but then again, I might have fallen in love with Oberlin much earlier on.

Maybe it's because I'm seeing these parts of the application process in retrospect, as a current student who has already gone through the papers and the waiting, but a lot of what was covered in the question and answer session seemed both distant and recent, and significant enough that I wish to impart to you, dear future application writing machines.

These aren't secrets to getting into your dream college, I apologize. I don't think there is a formula for that. What I'm offering in the following post is an approach to making your application a solid representation of yourself.

The Stanford admissions officer mentioned the application as a strategically subdivided case for the person in question: you. You only have so many pages to tell the application review committee as much about yourself as possible, so his proposal was to make sure that you didn't repeat yourself, because repeating yourself is a repeated waste of precious time and space, so repeating yourself seemed like a repeat of paper. And your message can get lost, too.

His suggestion was to make a list of 30 or so things that a student would like to share about themselves, things that were important to them, showcased their accomplishments, or that were things they wanted to continue pursuing in life. Many of these things will be covered on a transcript and in the various student activity listings. Some of these things might be best demonstrated by the supporting letters from your teachers and counselor. Some of the more personal things might be covered in your application essay. If there's something missing from your application at this point, consider supplementing your application with an additional recommendation or something personal that speaks about you.

An application is one of the ways to represent yourself, so make every little bit count. I think in terms of organized lists and schedules, but I didn't think to do my application this way. I just worked my way through the entire process, but without cross-referencing. And even though I like to repeat myself (like I said earlier :P), it probably wasn't the most effective way to approach my application.

Regardless of my possible application shortcomings, I got into college, and I'm so happy that I did. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. And remember to take everything I've written with a grain of admission officer salt and a smidge of college student sugar. The college umami, if you will.

I wish I could talk about Oberlin's version of the campus visit, tours, and q&a sessions, but I have no clue... It's something I wish I knew more about, but check out the Applying to Oberlin part of the Oberlin website for more info on who to contact with questions. They're the experts, and rightfully so.

Responses to this Entry

I completely agree - you to say as much about yourself as possible on your application essay (see my 8 page addendum to my activities suppliment) but more important is to be true to yourself. Whenever gives you a 'guide to writing the perfect application' it is important to remember that still is only a guide, not an assurance you will write the perfect application.

So if you have 8 extra pages* or none, just make sure it is you, because the colleges don't want the perfect essay, or the amazingly organized common app; in the end all they want it YOU.

*in hindsight, this was probably a bad idea: there are limits for a reason, but that is a personal choice - if you think you need it, well than that is you.

Posted by: Daniel on July 27, 2009 12:37 AM

I think I'll make my first blog about the visit procedure, in that case!

Posted by: Brandi on July 31, 2009 9:01 AM

That was really helpful for me, as I'm just starting to apply to colleges and write essays.
What kind of information about yourself would you put in your essays? Do you tell about what you like to do? your opinions about the world/how you see the world? your goals and values in life? In other words, what aspects of yourself do you think are best expressed in essay form?

Posted by: Leslie on October 21, 2009 4:18 PM

Hey Leslie!

I have no idea what admissions officers like. There's no magical formula. I had an easier time writing about myself and my passions (you know, write what you know, and you probably know yourself better than anyone/anything else).

It is to be noted that I also started about seven essays and scraped most of them. They just never hit the right note with me. If you want to read what I wrote about, check out my essay here.

I wrote about a topic that wouldn't necessarily be showcased in the rest of the information I sent along with my application. From the things that you list, it doesn't sound like the topics are mutually exclusive, but remember to remain focused and concise and let your personal voice shine through.

This advice is probably not the most decisive, but hopefully it helps you. I wish you much luck!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on October 22, 2009 1:45 AM

Thank you! I have started my personal statement about why I chose my major (dance) and I'm kind of grappling with how much history to give of how I got into dance and how much to talk about why dance is currently such a big part of my life. I like how you said that none of the topics I had mentioned seemed mutually exclusive; I think this is true of more topics than I might initially think.
Thanks again!

Posted by: Leslie on November 10, 2009 1:39 PM

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