I like to use the analogy that applying to college is like dating. Like any relationship, you should complement each other, build on each other’s strengths, and balance each other out. Your voice and opinions should be heard and respected, and you should learn from each other.
So, when you are applying to college, think of it as a 4-year (or longer) relationship. Colleges are reading your application and determining if you are going to be a good fit for their campus. Are you compatible? Do you bring a part of you to the campus that compliments or completes each other? How will you make valuable contributions to the campus community? Will that college campus and community help you find your purpose?
High school juniors, as you start to build college lists and research campuses, consider compatibility and what each of you bring to the relationship. Make a list of non-negotiables; these are items your college must have otherwise it won't work for you. Will your college prepare you for the workforce? Will your college provide you with strong relationships with professors to write letters of recommendations for graduate school? Will your college offer hands-on research or experiential learning? Will that college provide the tools you need to feel secure, confident, and appreciated?
I have had student's non-negotiables range from the exactness of academic offerings to the quality of food on campus to the type of the mascot. Remember, these are your non-negotiables, not anyone else's. What matters to you?
Students often ask me if they should do this or that because it might look good on an application. My response is to do things that make you happy. Choose activities that spark your interests and pique your curiosities. Learn and grow from your experiences – and bring those lessons you’ve discovered about yourself to your applications. Write about those “ah-ha” moments in your essays! Describe the growth you’ve achieved in doing these activities in your writing.
If you were in a relationship, would you change who you are to please the other person? Hopefully not! Be true to yourself. Yes, sometimes we have to compromise in a relationship, but hold true to your non-negotiables.
The right person, or college, in this case, will come along.