One Common Misconception

Updated: Apr 18

As we’re sure you know, there is a LOT of bad information floating around out there regarding the college application process, and VIZE will address one of these common misconceptions in each issue of our newsletter. This month, we’d like to talk about one of the most widespread mistakes students make throughout the application process: trying to make their application look like someone else’s. Briefly, don’t do that. Ever.

It’s easy to think that the college application process is determinative somehow, that if you win Contest X or Award Y just like that Senior last year that got into Harvard, you too will receive a golden ticket to any top program. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. Every single successful applicant to every single top college program got in for at least a slightly different reason. They all created compelling narratives surrounding their unique stories and backgrounds, and just like each of you, none of those narratives were exactly the same.

What it means is that no applicant should even think of trying to mimic the decisions of another, no matter how successful the latter might have been. There are countless demographic, economic, and social concerns going on behind the scenes within admissions departments that will remain opaque to everyone outside those departments, so don’t try to guess at them. Instead, focus on what you know for sure to be true: you’ve done a ton of really awesome things that helped you grow into the amazing person you are.

Your task with respect to college applications is simply to help admissions officers understand how remarkable you are. And that’s it. Admissions officers are trained to detect whether students are truly passionate about their academic and extracurricular decisions, and if you’re doing something because you think it’ll look good instead of caring deeply about it, they’re likely to riddle that out.

Instead of becoming another sob story of someone who did ALL the things and won ALL the awards but still didn’t get into a top program, become a better version of yourself. Don’t gloss over your past mistakes; take ownership of them and articulate the lessons you’ve learned from your experiences. Don’t join that fancy sounding club because last year’s valedictorian did; instead, start a new one that displays your unique ingenuity and creativity as you try to help your community in ways that valedictorians never considered.

The college application process can best be described as writing a sort of commercial for yourself. But just as in commercial advertising, formulaic or derivative approaches to telling a story are just going to lead admissions officers’ eyes to glaze over. Instead, focus on each and every thing that makes you unique, and thereafter, how to tell that story in the most authentic and engaging way possible. You may not know it, but that’s the reason your class valedictorian got in last year, and it’s how you’ll have the best chance of following in her footsteps. VIZE is here to help you tell that story.

*Photo credit: Mimi Thian