On Being Yourself in College Admissions

Being You in College Admissions, Being Yourself in Admissions, College Admissions and Being You

“Just be yourself.” That’s bad advice for students navigating the college admissions process. There, we said it.

It’s important to be yourself. A lot of folks give their friends pep talks before they go on dates. Maybe their words of encouragement go something like, “Just be you.” It’s simple. It’s straightforward. And it’s advice that folks often also apply to the highly selective college admissions process. But this is Kermit the Frog advice; it’s not advice we give our students. Did we just drop the mic? We tend to do that. Ivy Coach, are you saying that a student shouldn’t be himself when he applies to college? Well, that’s an oversimplification. Allow us to explain.

College Applicants Should Show A Specific Window Into Their Worlds

If a student being himself means articulating how he watches television every day after school from 4 PM to 8 PM, then, no, the student should not present this particular window into his world when he applies to our nation’s elite schools. If a student being herself means articulating how she performs dozens and dozens of community service hours at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals, you name it, then, no, the student should not present this particular window into her world; it’s cliché and comes across as though she’s trying to impress admissions officers, even if she has the best of intentions.

Advising College Applicants To Simply Be Themselves is Bad Advice

While being yourself sounds good and while it sounds irrefutable (how can you argue with being yourself?), don’t buy into such nonsense, nonsense perpetuated by college admissions officers at our nation’s elite schools. As Eric Ferreri writes in a recent piece for “Duke Today” entitled “Be Yourself: How To Navigate The College Admissions Process,” “Here’s a tip for high school seniors wondering how to ace the essay portion of the college application: Just be yourself. ‘The challenge is for the student to come across as the individual they are,’ said Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s dean of undergraduate admissions. ‘They should worry less about the quality of the writing and more about the opportunity for the reader to learn about the student.'” But while we have saluted Christoph Guttentag many times on the pages of our college admissions blog for telling it like it is about the admissions process, here’s an instance in which he’s not telling it like it is. A student should present the best side of himself or herself — not just any side. And how a student articulates his or her story through admissions essays, well, it certainly does matter. Big time.

It’s so easy to say “be yourself” when applying to college. But you don’t want to portray just any version of you. You want to show the version of yourself that will actually wow admissions officers. And, in most instances, the version of yourself that you think will wow admissions officers (working in the soup kitchen) is often very different from the version that will actually wow admissions officers (starting a non-profit that changes the world in one very specific way).


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