By Alexis Elliot ’18
“Ok, now can you describe yourself in 30 seconds or less?” During my college interview, I shifted in my seat as I tried to come up with an answer. Not wanting to seem unprepared but also worried to speak without gathering my thoughts, I asked my interviewer to give me a minute to think. As I left the interview, I couldn’t stop thinking about how in all of my life, I’ve never been asked to shrink myself down to 30 seconds. Even as a teen entrepreneur who pitched to Warren Buffet, I had 60 seconds to present a business idea. How much more would a person with an entire life story get?”
The experience I had during my college interview made me wonder if the college application process gives people enough room to explain who they really are. As I work on many of my college supplements, although I’m happy to get many of them out of the way, I sometimes worry that I didn’t mention many of my activities or certain life experiences that I really valued. Focusing on events that occurred only during high school — as the process requires — isn’t enough to capture the range of my life.
Furthermore, my fellow classmates seem to agree with me. In a voluntary survey conducted in the Class of 2018, 68% responded that they feel the college application process does not give applicants enough room to express who they are.
As a result, it’s easy for students to get stuck trying to balance moderation and simplicity. Yes, colleges value students who show a wide variety of achievements and interests, but they also value students who thrive in a few select areas. This paradox creates the challenge of trying to display all of one’s achievements while trying not to seem all over the place.
Further, I’ve found myself having to pick and choose which aspects of my life I want to demonstrate as ones that I value the most. Of course words on an application can’t encompass an entire person’s life experiences or values. But, I often find it hard to choose which values I want to incorporate. Do I talk about my experience playing soccer with an all-boys team in Ghana? Or should I talk about something more academic like participating in a coding camp for seven weeks?
Interestingly, in Peer Leadership, we were faced with this same task. We were instructed to write words or phrases that make up our identity. We then had to put them on a wheel with the things we value most taking up more space. Many of us found it difficult to prioritize some things over others. Shrinking ourselves down into categories felt impossible.
For argument’s sake, the college application process has many positives. Even though we don’t have much space to focus on many aspects of our lives, the essays are required to be short because so many millions apply. Another point to consider is that recommendation letters and interviews help account for the more personal side of the process.
Even so, the process still allows much of what makes up an applicant to get lost.
While the college process won’t drastically change anytime soon, that shouldn’t discourage us. Sometimes saying less is more. American photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams wrote, “When words become unclear, I shall focus on photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
Even though it’s easy for us to go crazy trying to explain ourselves in our applications, we should sometimes opt to just leave things out when it becomes too much. Don’t be afraid to keep an essay or explanation simple. Get your point across, but don’t feel burdened to hit every detail or every experience. Yes, there is the pressure to prove yourself to a college by explaining everything. But there is also beauty in the mysteriousness of having unfinished chapters in the story of your life.