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Verified by Psychology Today

You Are More Than Numbers: Reimagining College Admissions

The more a student tries to impress, the less impressive they become.

Key points

  • Focusing on checking off boxes of what students think colleges want to see does not make a student seem impressive.
  • Weaknesses can hint at an applicant's greatest strengths.
  • Students should surround themsleves with people who believe in them and their talents, even those they may not recognize in themselves.
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College admissions is a stressful time for applicants and their parents.
Source: Icons8 Team/Unsplash

College admissions are scary; terrifying, really. The amount of stress on the high-school-aged applicants and their parents should be charted on a Richter scale. With subsequent children, the process does not get any less anxiety-producing. Everyone in the house walks on eggshells as applications are completed and the waiting game begins. However, just as one submits the application, the anxiety and questioning of ‘did I do enough?’ occupies every waking and sleeping thought. It becomes all-consuming.

The noise and pressure are overwhelming. Applicants struggle to decide which college to attend, which major to pick, and which profession to pursue, all before their eighteenth birthday.

Aviva Legatt, author of Get Real and Get In, highlights a double bind college applicants face. Focused on checking off boxes of what they think college admissions officers are looking for, they become synthetic in their approach, which is a real turnoff for anyone reviewing their application. She frames this as the ‘Impressiveness Paradox’: The more you try to impress, the less impressive you become. Admissions officers see through the veil of deceit and search instead for the authentic persona to emerge.

Legatt introduces exercises to help students begin to imagine what their future selves might look like. As counterintuitive as it may appear, she also pushes them to focus on their strengths and weaknesses. But there is a method to the madness: While applicants often already know how to build on their strengths by joining clubs and activities in which they excel, it is leveraging your areas of greatest challenge that might provide insight. For example, a shy introvert who high-tailed it out of any social situation leveraged her ‘not talking and more listening’ persona to pursue a profession as a journalist. She realized that her shyness, which she always thought was a weakness, could be leveraged. When interviewing people for her articles, she did not cut them off but focused on active listening instead. She heard things others missed.

For those who were overlooked, underestimated, offered crumbs they were not willing to accept because they knew they were better than the picture someone painted of them, there is hope if someone unfairly painted a picture of them but they know they could always do more, be more, and achieve more. They can methodically work to turn someone’s ‘no’ into their ‘not yet’ and press forward.

Students can also surround themselves with mentors who see more in them than they see in themselves — people who support them, not critique them.

Just as in work and life, Legatt urges college applicants to chart their own course, and let their authentic selves emerge through the digital pages of an application. They can focus on the activities that they enjoy doing, not just those they feel they need to accomplish. By doing so, they will be willing to work harder on those activities they enjoy, as it will feel less like work and more like play. It will be both energizing and rewarding. They will feel better about the work they are doing, which will translate easily into their college essay and letters of recommendation.

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