Being Interesting: the Thing that Matters Most and the Reason You’ll Get Rejected
We like to think when you’re rejected from a school, especially a top school, it was because of any or some of the following: a low SAT/ACT score, a low GPA, a low class-rank, or extracurricular activities that don’t reach the state/national/international level.
But we often forget another thing entirely: we simply weren’t interesting enough. Before you call the cops on me, let me explain:
Since the beginning of high school, most of us (who are inevitably rejected) treat college as something pre-determined for us. We know we’re going to college, we just want to get into the most highly ranked school so that we get oos and aahs from other people. So then we tailor our extracurriculars to things that we like doing that we also think colleges want to see. We start a business, because we’re passionate about business… but also because we think colleges will love to see that we started one. Perhaps we start a cosmetic business, because we like makeup but also because starting a business is impressive…to colleges. We join clubs. We do laboratory research, because we like science and also because it yields tangible results that colleges will be impressed by. Perhaps we create nanoparticles and culture cancer cells.
But imagine if you never thought about college in your choice of extracurriculars at all? Would you pursue what you actually, truly love? Like…horse-back riding? Hiking? Would you binge-watch Korean dramas, only to inevitably teach yourself the Korean language? Would you repeatedly try to learn how to cook the perfect egg? Would you go to Washington D.C. and protest for human rights, and then get tear-gassed by the police?
The reason you were rejected was because of three things, which are all tied together: (1) to some degree or another, you think about college when you decide what to pursue, (2) you or your story isn’t interesting enough, and (3) you haven’t fully realized yourself. Let me explain:
When you start to think about college, you won’t pursue things like horse-back riding or protesting, perhaps because you think that its not “academic” or impressive enough. You won’t try over and over again to try to cook the perfect egg. Because you don’t pursue what interests you in the moment, you become bland. In your essays, you’ll talk about how how you made $1000 from your cosmetic business and how that was really hard to achieve, instead of laughing over how you fell down in front of 1000 people at a human rights protest. Instead of talking about how you love Korean dramas and taught yourself the language, you’ll write about how fascinated you are with Persian art…when truly, deeply, and literally…you’re not that fascinated with it. And now matter how much you embellish your essays with “it sparked my curiosity” and “I delved into the intricacies of _____ and found myself lost and amazed”, you’ll seem bland and uninteresting. And then, because you didn’t pursue the wilderness called life, you won’t fully realize yourself. You won’t see your vulnerabilities. You won’t see your flaws. You’ll become sheltered and blind to your faults and your strengths because you stay indoors all day. You’ll write essays that don’t reveal much about you, simply because you don’t know much about yourself. Your teachers will write recommendations that will commend you, but they’ll describe you in a way that won’t differentiate you from other bland, sheltered applicants.
You’ll think that you’ll seem interesting to the admissions committee, because you started, say, a cosmetic business (and you know no other applicant has done that), but AdCom won’t see it that way. They want people who are truly, really, literally, fully human. They want humans who are mature beyond their years, because they’ve been through narratives in life that seem so rare these days and perhaps a bit outdated. They want humans who can reveal their flaws, their faults, their insecurities, who are okay with admitting about the time they were racist or homophobic or unjustifiably angry, and who don’t care what others think of them. They’ve grown from their teenage angst or their ableist mindset, and become a better person. They’re not proud of what they did or maybe who they used to be. But instead of comparing themselves to another person today, like some other accepted Stanford applicant, they compared themselves to who they were yesterday. And they grew. They matured. They became unique, interesting, memorable, and impressive.
You weren’t rejected because you had low stats or bad extracurriculars. You were rejected because you were…boring.