My mom was right: just be yourself

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Coming from an Asian family, I suppose it’s a no-brainer that I’ve already visited many of the country’s top colleges.  I’ve also amassed a collection of books with titles such as “50 Successful Harvard Application Essays,” and of course, I’ve listened to plenty of lectures about getting ready for college from Mama Liu.  All of this I experienced before I even entered high school.

It’s true that the college admissions process has become more competitive in recent years, given a 37% increase in college enrollment since 2000. In order to keep up with the pressure that comes with the larger volume of applicants, students today have had to work harder to stand out amongst their peers. As admittance to colleges becomes more competitive, some students have forgotten that there is a fine line between caring about your future and letting colleges take over your life.

Ask any high school student, and they will probably tell you they have begun to prepare for college in some way, shape, or form. Hearing people talk about their plans to hang out after school seems to be a rare occurrence. How could it not be? Being the perfect applicant has become so vital these days that students often forfeit their individualism. They become too focused on cookie cutter templates based off of admission tips. But if every student becomes the book-smart Student Body President, then where’s the diversity in that?

Perhaps there are legitimate reasons that explain why we just could not schedule in all of the after-school activities we had planned to do. How can we possibly fit our life stories on the limited number of pages of a college application? How can admissions officers, mere strangers, truly understand who we are by simply reading a packet of paper? To me, the answer is clear: they can’t.

This summer, I read Acceptance, a stimulating narrative by David L. Marcus that follows the life of Gwyeth Smith, a nationally recognized guidance counselor, as he helps seven particular students find where they belong during the admissions process. Unlike most guidance counselors, Smith has a technique that emphasizes self-discovery rather than test scores and grades. It seems to me that we may have had our solutions in front of us all along –– we should just be ourselves.  It may sound cliche, but there’s something strange about the fact that we spend so much time selling ourselves without ever wondering what exactly it is we are selling.  Do you really know what makes you a great buy?

It isn’t the information on the paper that draws in the admissions officers. It’s the way in which your voice and your personality comes through that gives it a unique edge. Perhaps grooming yourself into the “perfect” applicant may be taking away the very part of you that makes you stand out.