Fishing versus Filtering

As a (newbie) guest contributor to Confessions from Stanford, I’m happy and honored to have the privilege of sharing my opinions and experiences throughout my Stanford years here. Some of my fellow contributors have already come forth to say hello, so I guess it’s about time I join the party.
The quick and the dirty
I am an international with a confusing name, so you guys can go ahead and call me Y. J. I completed my education in Singapore, and applied to Stanford via regular decision. I will be majoring in Bio, and am hoping to pursue some undergrad research while at Stanfy. Watch this space for updates on how that goes.
Passions include: Texas Hold’em, certain TV shows, enjoying the outdoors, and generally staring out of the window.
Just a dude, really.
Seeing as how it’s almost college admissions season again, I thought I should give my take on the admissions process. I’m going to buck the trend a little here, and take the focus off me. I will not be listing my achievements or scores here, as you can probably get a representative view of admitted students from forums such as College Confidential. Instead I hope this will give you readers a better understanding of the application process. 
I’m also going to be expanding this out of Stanford, since the Stanford admissions process is fundamentally comparable to almost every UScollege. It does not matter which school you want to go to, or which schools you’re applying to. The advice below should be helpful regardless (that’s the plan anyway). Schools generally select candidates based on their stats (scores and achievements) and their essays (plus interviews in some cases).
We’re back to fishing vs filtering.
Filtering – that’s the scores. Every school basically has to set an entry standard. They need students to be of a certain caliber. A filter blocks the passage of items larger than its pore size, and lets everything else through. In terms of scores, you don’t really have to do better than the next candidate, you just have to do well enough to make the cut. Of course, there’s no harm doing the best you can.
The logical next question is, What’s good enough? And that’s also where it gets a little complicated. To make an accurate judgement of good enough, colleges are going to try to assign you to groups within the applicant pool. They want to know how well you did, given your education background and the like. As an international student, I’m pretty sure the colleges judged my performance by looking at indicators such as average SAT score for the Singapore cohort.
Now on to fishing. The college now has a pool of applicants who they deem of suitable caliber. This is probably going to be larger than they would like, and they have to cut down some more. Here is where your essays come in. Every essay topic is different, but they all serve the same purpose. The admissions officers want to see something that makes you more special than the next guy. They’re going to go fishing. The lucky applicant that most catches their eye gets to be plucked out of the applicant pool.
Trying to be more special than the next applicant is never easy. One way is to tug on heartstrings, perhaps by writing about the difficult conditions you had growing up, and about how you managed to circumvent these disadvantages by making the most out of the opportunities you came across. Or you could wrap your interests, passions, achievements and aspirations together in a neat little package with a pretty bow. More than anything, you have to find a unique part about yourself. DIG DEEP, and I am sure, even if you are the world’s most boring person (that honor belongs to me), you will be able to find something. For the record, I wrote about looking out of the window and I linked that to my personality. 
One thing is for sure though, don’t try to pretend to be someone you are not. That will not fool the AOs. Write from your heart. Be bold enough to recognize your passions and your idiosyncrasies, and have the guts to write about them. Be brave enough to make your essay stand out – use a different writing style, humor, anything. But don’t say things like WHAT’S UP DAWG to your AO. That’s standing out for the wrong reason.

The application process is a very complicated one, and the above is merely a generalization. Still, I hope it gives you guys at least a little insight on what is important in framing your application. 
That’s really all I’ve got for you. I’d love very much to hear from you, in the comments section below. Tell me if you liked my writing, or if you thought it sucked. Ask me anything and I will be happy to help.
And to those of you applying to college this year, all the very best.  
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