I know everybody’s been saying it, but you really don’t need to be the perfect student. I certainly wasn’t. While a 2400 or a 4.0 can definitely help you get in, you need something else as well. Obviously, colleges want to know you as a student, but they also (especially Stanford) want to know you as a person. For that, you need something more than scores and grades. You need a personality.
That link goes to an article my dad sent me. The basic point of the article is that, in addition to a good academic record, you need a “hook”: something that sets you apart and gets you noticed. For example, being a legacy student. Five relatives of mine went to Stanford, which is something an admissions officer will notice. It’s important to note that this does not mean you will have to meet a less rigorous set of academic expectations. There’s a careful balancing act at work between academics and everything else. Being a legacy kid, having a 2400, going to the Olympic trials, all those are things that can serve to get you noticed. You want to stand out. You want to be different. You want to be yourself at your best, but still yourself.
Moving on from that article, how do you show a university your personality? Hopefully you have a distinct personality to begin with, since senior year is a little late to start working on one. Even if you’re not involved in a dozen different clubs, sports, activities, whatever, chances are there are things you do frequently and enjoy doing. I’ve been a Girl Scout for 12 years. I read a lot. I took a trapeze class. Everyone has their own thing, and colleges want to see that. Diversity is big these days.
As far as the application itself goes, the essays are a big part of it. Admittedly, some college essay prompts are pretty lame, but Stanford generally has good ones, such as writing a letter to your future roommate. That essay in particular is a chance to show off who you are outside of school. My roommate essay began “Dear future roommate, Are you a cyborg?” and later included a quote from my sister about how I’m anything but a neat freak. Unlike many of the other essays I wrote that year, it was fun. It was different. It was relaxed.
You don’t need to fill your essays with stories about how you spend your entire summer reading Shakespeare and helping orphaned kids in Taiwan. You don’t need to try too hard to make yourself look good. The important part is to make yourself look like yourself. 500 words is not a lot, so use your space wisely.
In a way, the college process is like dating. If they don’t want you for exactly who you are, you’re better off somewhere else.
Okay, so I feel like this post doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense. Sorry about that. I knew what I was trying to say when I started writing this, and I sort of lost track in the middle. I guess I’ll go ahead and post it anyway, if only for that link. Basically, do your best in school and definitely try to get those good grades and SAT scores, but at the end of the day just be yourself. It’s a lot easier than trying to make yourself look perfect, and anyway, perfection is overrated.