Here’s one of the easiest ways to stand out in your Common Application: When they ask you for your Future Plans, don’t put “Undecided.” But don’t select a generic, pre-populated response either. Instead, do this: Select “Other.”
Then Common App. gives you a good sentence-worth of space to work with. Write something concise, creative, and smart that tells your admission reader what you want to study and/or do with your education:
“Travel novelist: one part Hemingway, one part Bourdain.”
“Study microbiology and finance to create a stealth-startup to cure autism.”
I know some readers will protest. “No way, that sounds try-hard.” Or “That’s not following the Common App. Instructions.” It can sound try hard if you don’t pull it off right. And sure, some crotchety AO may find it try-hard. But I highly doubt it. And if I read you when I was at Stanford, I would have loved it. Here’s why:
First, because as an admission reader, I’m bored. Almost everyone writes their application in a safe, boring, cliché way. This will grab my attention and make me like you. Just make sure you back it up! If you drop Hemingway or a stealth-startup, I better hear about those things in your writing, and ideally see activities that support your claims to become a writer or bio-entrepreneur.
Second, because if you’re applying to schools with low acceptances rates, you’ve got to take big swings to stand out. This will stand out.
Third, this is one of the first things your AO will read. Do this right and you won’t just stand out, you will have handed your reader a pair of custom-glasses that will color how they see your entire application. And if you’ve filled that out correctly, then this Future Plans sentence is all part of your academic vision that fits with your writing, activities, and makes you a compelling applicant.