College admissions is a matching system and often feels like a black box. In reality, there are several highly-experienced admissions readers who are ultra-efficient and process tens of thousands of applications by hand each year. Nonetheless, students, especially competitive students, attempt to create a game out of the process. Those highly invested bolster extracurricular activities, edit essays dozens of times and apply to dozens of schools. Over the years, we have learned a lot about how to structure the process to help students. In this article, we’ll cover both our advice and that of the dean of Stanford to answer this question.
The first question to approaching the process is – can I control it all? The answer is no. There are elements like “institutional priorities” for forming a diverse and holistic class that remain important to many universities and out of the student’s control. There are school elements like competitiveness, demographics, and average test scores that also cannot be controlled by one student or family.
Is it totally random them? No, not at all. It is a matching process, a lot like dating. Students write essays that are (hopefully) genuine and tell their 4-year story in a few paragraphs, or at least the highlights. Admissions officers read these and filter for what matters. Often, people come to us trying to figure out what that filter is for each college. In reality, our goal is to help students figure out the first step – how to convey themselves fully and find what they like to do. Students and parents focus on finding out what that filter is before looking within – what do I like to do? Then, what makes me unique?
How you can play
Chances are, if you found something you really like to do, you will be good at it. It might even be something so specific that others haven’t even heard about it. If that’s the case, then you are unique. Even if you like a field like medicine, the way you show it over time and the way you portray it makes you unique. So our first piece of advice is – to stop focusing on institutional mechanics and start looking deep within.
Over 7 years, we have proven this actually works. What’s more, the dean of Stanford agrees. Our students get accepted 3x more than the average because we facilitate them finding what they actually like to do. It’s so much fun for us, and it’s fun for students to discover themselves. The rest falls in place.
So you do have control over the process and over the most important piece: yourself.