Wednesday, August 1, 2012

College Essay AIMS: The S Stands for...

The S stands for Surprise.

Too often admission officers go into the application with preconceived stereotypes in their minds about an applicant.

High school experiences, coupled with the myriad of teenage pop culture icons from movies like American Pie and hit shows like MTV's Teen Wolf, all color the lens through which we read and filter an application.

We unconsciously reduce, peg, squeeze in, and categorize people.

Especially when an admission officer is reading thousands of applications from teenager students.  

Take for example any application from a student who attends Casady School.

We are an independent school.

What automatically comes to mind? 

Independent School  = spoiled rich kid with helicopter parents who will drop a $1K on test prep and tutors and coaches and specialist.

Independent School = a bubble world of privilege and entitlement.  

Or take the kid whose extracurricular activity chart is rife with athletic accomplishments. 

Athletic = non-intellectual.

Someone who bought their English paper over the symbolic meaning of the letter A in Scarlet Letter from some nerd's blog on the Internet.

Which brings up another stereotype.

The nerd.

That kid who has a full collection of comic book/action hero t-shirts in their closet, reads the dictionary for fun, and spent prom night in the basement playing X-box with their other "stag" buddies.

You get the idea.  (We didn't even broach the topic of racial/ethnic stereotypes - that will be another blog post).

To surprise your reader then is to shatter the stereotype. 

It means to be an iconoclast.  Take that preconceived icon (image) and take a baseball bat to it.

It's the applicant then who goes to the independent school, but has worked a number of mindless/mundane jobs, like the student whose first job involved pulling cow lungs from raw meat.

It's the kid who carries a field jockey stick and physics textbook to their locker every morning.

It's the kid who flies their "nerd flag" with pride, whether leading the cheers at the pep rally, decked out in school color body paint, or who spends their free time trying to develop a water filter with their science teachers, a kind of water filter that could help solve the water crisis in third world countries.

The most compelling and personal college essays always leave the reader saying, "Huh, I never would have guessed that about that kid."

Too often a student will read one-dimensional in their college application.

It will be a "flat, static read" from the first line of the application.

No element of surprise.  

To surprise your admission officer means you reveal that there is more to you than they can see just from test scores, grades, and activity flow charts.