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As a college-prep expert, I’ve learned admissions officers are looking for memorable students.Students should stop trying to appear impressive by joining a bunch of extracurriculars. Instead, they should find their core values and work on projects that fit within those values.
Before I became a college-prep expert, I was a high-school teacher. So I’ve spent years helping teens through their high-school careers and prepping for college.
Recently, I’ve noticed a shift in what college-admissions officers are looking for in applications from students.
In my experience, it seems colleges aren’t interested in just impressive candidates anymore; they’re looking for memorable ones.
Most students strive to have an impressive application, but that’s misguided
In any given year, millions of ambitious teens apply to college, and all of them are trying to impress the college-admissions officers. That means they take the hardest classes, they demonstrate leadership as much as possible, and they do it all for the same reason: to be impressive. The problem is being impressive puts the focus outside that student.
Most students aren’t thinking: “What will make a difference?” or, “What will make me feel fulfilled?”
The thought is: “What will impress the college-admissions officer?”
While having awareness of the process and valuing the school you want to attend are important, the thought process is misplaced. When teens place the value of the experience outside themselves, it takes their actions out of empowerment and self-expression and puts them squarely in the middle of toxic desperation.
Toxic desperation creates homogeneity among the applicants until they become a sea of boring and predictable expectations. Colleges now get applications from students who participated in many extracurriculars just to get into college. They’re participating for the sake of participating.
If the students don’t know how to contribute outside the impressiveness paradigm, that doesn’t serve the college. The college thrives when it has a community of students doing incredible things to change the world and support each other. When communities are built on impressiveness and one-upping each other, everyone loses.
The way teens become memorable, instead of impressive, is by leading from their core values
Students need to ignore the college-admissions officer when mapping out their college-prep strategy. Instead, they need to focus on their core values. Once a teen knows their core values, they can design a custom project that works to solve something violating those core values in their community.
This demonstrates to colleges who the teen is and how they will contribute to their community, as well as the world at large after graduation. Colleges want students who will carry their name and legacy forward after graduation, and that only happens when officers admit students who are clear on who they are and what’s important to them.
The problem is most adults don’t even know their core values, so how can teens start?
The truth is, teens need guidance. Teens can’t find their core values on their own. They need support thinking through their core values and learning to self-reflect. It’s from there that teens can choose which core values they resonate with most. Finding a problem to solve in their community from the perspective of what’s violating their values becomes much easier this way.
For example, Ishita, one of my students, started a summer camp for girls interested in STEM called STEMpowerHer, and Brianna, another student I advise, has been cataloging stories of immigrants to help other immigrants feel less alone.
Each of these teens has a unique project that speaks directly to their core values — that also ignites their passion. You can see who they are.
This is what makes them memorable to an admissions officer.
These teens don’t have to be better than everyone else at everything. They need to excel in the art of their core values expressed out into the world in the form of positive change.