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Because the college search begins with self-awareness and personal assessment, “a lot of this process is about the why,” said Uy [Director of Admissions at Bates]. “It’s OK to say you want to be a lawyer, or be pre-med, or pursue engineering, but ask yourself why. What sparked that interest?” From there, a student can ask other questions. “How are you motivated? Is it competition or grades or just wanting to do your best?”
....To be sure, there is no “predictive formula” when it comes to the college search. So rather than trying to squeeze yourself into some magic admission formula that doesn’t even exist be authentic to who you are. Think about the things that matter most to you.
Uy and Madden [Sr. AD at Dartmouth] made it clear that your essay should not hinge on epic or cataclysmic events in your life....Some of the best essays can be “Seinfeldian," They could be about nothing but a few moments in your ordinary life that I can’t find anywhere else in your application. If you could take me into your life for 5 minutes, I think that is a successful essay....To that end, make the essay about you. It doesn’t have to be exciting. It doesn’t have to move us.
Let’s say you got an A in math. Maybe you do well in math because it comes naturally to you. So you choose the teacher on that basis, and the recommendation that we get says, basically, "She’s really good at math." Since talent is pretty easy to identify — and since every student applying to college will have some talent in something — that’s an unhelpful recommendation.
Instead, we encourage students to seek out teachers they’ve engaged with and people who know them well. Such teachers might be ones who’ve seen you take a dissenting opinion in class, or seen you collaborate with peers, or seen you take feedback or setbacks well. When a recommendation shares that information, it brings you, your personality, what you will add to the classroom to life.
[Students will] say, "I want to apply Early Decision, but I don’t know what college". Problem is, that’s like saying, "I want to get married, I just don’t know to whom yet." Early Decision makes sense for the student who is all-in on one college. But you need to feel a total commitment to a college. “Ninety-nine percent is not enough because that 1 percent of doubt will eat at you all senior year and make you question your decision,” Uy said.