This blog is to all the ’14’s, ’15s, ’16s+ who are scared after watching the ’13 college results this year.
In one of my very first blogs on MIT Admissions, I wrote about what I thought was the “secret” of college admissions. Over the year and a half that I’ve been here, after meeting hundreds of people who had since became my classmates and my friends, and now looking at the college admissions process from the other angle (I like to try to identify the MATCH in the people I meet here at MIT – it’s actually really fun. Try it!), this belief had not changed.
I usually dispensed the same advice on talk.collegeconfidential.com, but I haven’t really thought about writing another blog on it until an email popped up (not for the first time) in my inbox requesting me to submit my old college application to an online database which would be used to help applicants formulate their own college applications.
It was a MIT senior that was soliciting these applications, and after reading his email, I felt initial outrage, tinged with a hint of sadness. I have a lab report and a Spanish essay due tomorrow and 5.12 to study for, but I feel I must get this off my chest.
To all future applicants,
I understand that beginning from this week, when your elder classmates are receiving their decisions from the colleges that they have been obsessing over since middle school, your first day of the application process begins.
Day 1. You might be insecure, you might be panicking already. With headlines like “Application Numbers Breaking Records” plastered all over major newspapers and online forums, you can’t help but wonder at your chances of getting into your dream school.
“Am I doing enough?” “Am I good enough?” “Do I need to seek extra help?” are a few of the common questions that are running through your mind.
Equally, at the other side of the dinner table, your parents are also thinking about your future.
“Am I doing enough for my child?” “Does she need a test prep course?” “Do we need to hire a college counselor?”
Attractive posters and online advertisements with grinning grads holding diplomas begin filling up your school’s hallways and the sites that you visit. Increasingly, you get more and more offers for help in your email inbox. You begin asking yourself, “Exactly how much help do I need? Am I good enough to get into college on my own?”
I want to tell you, right here, and right now: “YES, YOU ARE.”
Our consumerism culture has taught us that there is no problem that money cannot solve. Accordingly, more and more people believe that money can resolve all problems, as long as enough of it is thrown into the effort. Crops of college counseling services, essay “proofreading” services, and admission consulting programs spring up faster than ever.
These services convince you that with the “guidance of admission experts” and “tried-and-true applications that work,” you’ll be able to also join the ranks of an elite college.
But I want to ask you – do you really need all that? When did it become that you can’t get into college on your own?
One value I hold higher than all else when it comes to college admissions is creativity.
Like what I asked in the entry I wrote before – “What is it that makes you tick?” Going a little bit deeper, I like to summarize it using the word “passion.”
Passion is getting up at 5.30 AM every morning and braving the morning breeze just so that you’ll get two hours of swim practice before classes begin.
Passion is sitting down at a crowded dinner table, yelling above the pandemonium and trying to instill a sense of order into the kids who live at the orphanage you work at.
Passion is noticing the small changes that make a big difference – starting a recycling program at your school, helping to tutor struggling middle school students, or organizing a “clean up the litter day” at your local park.
Too often, our society has imposed upon us ideals and molds – to get into MIT, you must have had done science competitions; to get into Harvard, you must score above 2300 on the SATs.
Similarly, we begin conforming to those molds, accepting the limitations and the boundaries that our society impose upon us. Gradually, we begin to lose our original passion – the “fire” that powers our being – and become cookie-cutter people.
The essays you write are no longer good enough if they weren’t edited by a professional editor. The activities that you do are no longer good enough if they aren’t part of a national organization. The scores that you get are no longer good enough if they don’t match up to the scores of the people on College Confidential.
Through self-negation and a yearning to be “the perfect applicant,” I feel that unfortunately too many people have sacrificed who they really are in trying to be somebody they’re not.
But how is this relevant?
In this day and age, especially with ultra-competitive admissions, college admission officers would like to look for diversity in the applicant pool. To put it one way, college admissions may be akin to painting a picture – with the admission officers as the artists. Would the picture look good if it was solely comprised of a single color? College admission officers dabble some here, tweak some there with the ultimate goal of creating a beautiful painting with many interwoven colors. This is why many officers refer to the process of selecting an incoming class as “building” a class.
Thus, why would you negate your own individuality at the risk of becoming another one of those boring spots in the background?
I am a firm believer that each one of us has an unique voice that distinguishes us from any other person. Therefore, why do you need books that have compiled essays from past applicants who got in? Why would you need online databases that “demonstrate” what a “winning college application” should look like?
Seemingly harmless, it is my belief that the more that you expose yourself to the works of other people, the more you begin losing the sense of who you are. In Chinese, we have a proverb that says “those who often contact cinnabar* will turn red; those who often contact ink will turn black.” In the same vein, the more that you expose yourself to other peoples’ ideas – the more that you risk losing your own.
(*cinnabar = HgS crystal that is naturally red. The Chinese use ground cinnabar to make a red ink paste.)
“Wait,” you say, “Are you saying that we should not collaborate and share ideas with other people ever?”
Of course not. There are plenty of places where collaboration is encouraged – one glaring example is science: nowadays, almost no significant discovery is made without collaboration.
But why the college application?
First, I feel like the college application is an intimate extension of yourself – your life story presented to the college admission officers. Thus, you already have all the tools that you need to tell your story, because who knows yourself better than….yourself? What is the point of external influences? I feel like they are only swaying you away from who you truly are and your own unique ideas.
If you have ideas – then let them flow forth. Tell a story about your first love. Paint a picture of your innermost passions. Weave a tapestry of your wildest dreams.
Second, I feel like in this over-hyped, over-exploited college admissions generation, being original is a big plus. Having a slightly-flawed application probably doesn’t ruin your chances – it may even convey sincerity and honesty. Would you like to sound like a thirty-year old man who sits in front of a computer and edits essays? Would you rather be presented as a robot that has stellar grades, but is devoid of feeling?
Alas, I had digressed much.
The bottom line is:
You don’t need to buy a book of collected college essays.
You don’t need to read other people’s applications to know how to apply to college.
You don’t need to read other people’s college essays to write your own stellar piece.
You don’t need a person who’s probably double or triple your age telling you what to write and what not to write on your application.
Unleash your dreams.
Let your creativity run wild.
Let the torrents of energy flow forth.
And then, you will have achieved your most fervent desires.
With sincere regards,
Chris Su, ’11
ask-oasis [at] mit.edu