You may think you have a pretty good grip on what type of person you are. Let’s face it, you just spent the last four years of your life jockeying for social status and acceptance in teenage hormone land, otherwise known as high school. Everything from where you sat at lunch to which classes you took was something that defined you and dictated what your day to day life was like.
Maybe you really like skating? Maybe you really like math? Maybe you really like painting? All noble activities, but allow me to tell you something exciting and maybe a little concerning. As well as you think you know yourself and what you enjoy doing, the college application process will mess with your preconceptions and alter the way you look back at the things you’ve done.
When I started filling out my MIT application I had a pretty solid game plan: Stress band, life in the country, and sense of humor and then sprinkle a love of building things and strong work ethic on top. Simple enough, I figured it summed me up pretty well.
I started filling out the MIT application the day it became available (I actually think I got Part I in about four hours after it was posted online) so that I’d have plenty of time to just roll the essay topics around in my head and wait for inspiration. That’s the thing about writing for me, I can’t force myself to write something within a given prompt, I have to just wait until I randomly come up with the perfect plan or idea and then I run with it. That’s why although I filled out almost every part of my application starting on August 1st I didn’t start filling out my main essay until around October 1st. It scared my parents that I hadn’t even thought about the essay, let alone started writing it, with only a month left. I, however, wasn’t worried, because until October 1st I hadn’t had the perfect idea, something to write about that actually said who I was.
You will probably run into this while applying to colleges, especially if you’re doing it right. If you’re cranking out applications like an assembly line worker you may not have time to just wait for the perfect essay so you’ll have to rely on writing skills alone. I suggest you pick the school you most want to attend and just mull over the essay topics. Don’t necessarily think about them, but just remember them and see what happens during day-to-day life that would help make that essay the best it can be.
This post is called “discovering yourself” because as much as you think you know about yourself, by the end of the college application process you will know so much more. It makes you think about what truly matters in your life, what aspects do you feel are more important than others, what do you value? Is band more important than Model UN? You only have room for a couple of activities, some may have to be dropped, which will they be? On MIT’s application you’ll have to remember what you’ve done over the last several summers and pick the things that you feel helped shape you. You’ll also have to find something that you do just for fun, which was actually one of the harder things to write in my application. I do so many things for fun, which one was the one I find most important? Have you ever just sat down and thought about the one thing you do for fun that you’d put above all of the others?
When you’re done filling out an application, if you’ve done it correctly, you’ll have a boiled down version of you. In theory you’ve dug deep and figured out what matters in your life, transferred it to paper, and can only hope that admissions will like what they see. Writing what you hope admissions wants to see is a dangerous dangerous game to play. You need to be a good fit for MIT and if an application gets you accepted but doesn’t reflect who you are, you may be absolutely miserable here and will have nobody to blame but yourself. You’ll want to yell and scream at MIT and everybody around you, but you’ll actually know that it was because you lied about who you were and you get to enjoy the consequences.
I hope applying to college is as meaningful for you as it was for me. A big part of the reason I’m an admissions blogger now is because of the college application process and how much I gained from it. I wouldn’t be nearly as willing to help people and answer questions if I had been dishonest or “studied to the test” because then I wouldn’t know if I actually belonged here. I do belong here, because that application was me, and I know that when MIT accepted that application they were going to get the student they read about.
Enjoy the process and learn a lot, you won’t regret it in the slightest. As a little present I’ve built a handy-dandy spreadsheet for you to keep track of all those teacher recommendations and things. It’s not perfect (maybe kind of ugly?) but it’s totally functional and you’re welcome to tweak it to your own specifications. Boxes can be either red or green with a date. Red indicates that the action has not taken place yet, green with a date lets you know when it has. This template is set up with the colleges I was going to apply to but feel free to change the names/colors of the columns to match your college preferences.
There’s another tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet called “Mailing Labels.” This is a good place to put the addresses to the schools so that you know where to mail all of this stuff. Go ahead and add more tabs, colors, labels, or anything else you want. Spreadsheets are wonderful ways of organizing a ton of information and keeping everything in order. Good luck!
Oh, and here’s a dancing lemur for Sam (see 10th comment)