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The university application: genuine character pulls its weight

It’s application season which means it’s one of the most important opportunities in a young adult’s life to show who they truly are.


That's right. *One of the most important opportunities in a young adult's life to show who they truly are.*

Yet, how many students—and parents—freak out about this time? “How do we make that low grade look better than it is?” “Is there a way to show I play sports even if I’m not on a team?” “Should we take the ACT a third time?” And while these questions have some legitimacy—the process itself generates much of the mania and anxiety that overcomes the applicant and her family at this time of year—everyone’s missing the point. The strongest university applicant—and thus application--is the one where the student can genuinely, honestly, adroitly and confidently (with a nice dose of humility) show who they are, thick and thin, true to form. Yes, that means not trying to be anyone else but who he is. 100%. And, yet, we never say—do we?—what an amazing opportunity this university application process is for the student and family. And yet it is.

I’ve got Marco here. Smart. Quiet. Introvert. Passionate about teaching. Lover of books. Polite. Kind! Not at all a sporty guy and definitely not a strong test-taker. All summer he was trying to be someone he’s not: show I’m involved in sports (he hated it) and preparing for another shot at standardized tests (sitting in test prep all summer—can we please help our families and students understand this is not going to help them grow nor develop?). When I finally met Marco a week ago I told him directly: "You’ve got so many strengths, passions, interests! And you're such a kind young man. Why aren’t you focusing on those instead of trying to fit yourself into what you believe is a perfect candidate box?" (By the way, there is none.)

"But, can I?" he asked.

Students who are given the opportunity to learn how the application process truly works realize that going through the process can actually benefit them: showing and championing your true self will make your applications even stronger. (And yet so many think it's just about showing you have a strong SAT...) Marco’s Dad realized this process might even help his son learn more about himself, make him more confident and capable. This is what we should be helping students and parents understand—and that succeeding in showing one's true self in the application will make for a stronger, more successful application. (Again, get ye out of the test prep center and instead doing something that inspires you!)

The university application process actually rewards the student who is able to embrace her unique self, show her true interests and strengths, and recognize her weaknesses. These are, undoubtedly, the strongest applications I see. And, what we’re missing in the vortex of the frenzy is that if the student focuses on such in the process and in her applications—her true genuine self and championing such—it’s not only rewarded by admissions but it’s also developing the young adult to learn the value in being truly, genuinely true to herself—both now and in the future.

As adults, we know this happens throughout life.

Career paths and decisions, friendships, life-partners, home-buying or renting, lifestyle choices: the decisions we make on all of these parts of our lives are ultimately based on our own individual interests, unique strengths and character and whose “success” usually is very directly tied to just how true to yourself you’re being and have been when you take those decisions.

So, we’re drowning in fury, madness, “strategizing the system” when we are missing the point! US university admissions is based on fit. Fit means what? Knowing yourself and knowing the institution: are we a potential match? That’s for you, the applicant, to figure out and for the university to try to determine as they evaluate your application. And, sure, while the application process is nothing but complex, thorough and time-consuming (you can add other adjectives here), it’s also a tool, a rite of passage, a mechanism to help young adults not only evaluate their true selves but to also learn to champion who they are (“Hey, I’m not sporty but I’m actually really good at being a caretaker—of my friends and family and people around me!”) and learn to articulate that to someone who, ultimately, wants to get to know them (that’s admissions in this case).

The US application process, in many cases, is the first in a young adult’s life to test that out.

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