An Eligible College Student is a student that has done everything in their ability to be the type of student a good-match College wants to admit. This does not mean doing a lot of things you hate but think might look good on your resume. If you apply yourself to the best of your abilities and follow your passions, you will be considered an Eligible College Student at the Colleges that are a good match for you. (If you struggle to get B’s in class, then attending Harvard may not be the best match). Coincidentally, an Eligible College Student is most likely a happy, successful and fulfilled High School student – BONUS!
Keep in mind that by definition, an exceptional student is someone who is not typical. Most average students prefer not to advertise their average-ness; consequently you are most likely to hear about GPA’s, test scores and other feats from exceptional students. Remember that their resume is NOT typical and should not prevent you from realizing you are or can become an Eligible College Student. Being happy does not mean being the best – in fact a lot of people who consider themselves the best are NOT happy. People who often tell you about their success are probably compensating – for insecurity, for unhappiness, who knows? The point is to not let them make you feel bad about yourself, which is often their goal.
Most of the suggestions related to being an Eligible College Student don’t have to do with having amazing GPA’s and test scores: it is advice on what you can do to be the most prepared to apply to College, as well as ways for you to demonstrate a) what is exceptional about you and b) how you are passionate about something. If you don’t know what those things are, time to figure it out. And if you can’t think of an answer (really, even if you think you know the answer), ask family members and friends what they think is exceptional about you. Those answers may help you understand yourself better (at the very least, how other people see you), which will make you much better at telling others about yourself. Knowing yourself better through thought and discussion will benefit you greatly not just in your College essays and interviews, but for life in general. If you ask me, the most common trait people don’t think they are, that others believe they are, its confident. Appearing confident can go a long ways in carrying you through this process. Remember, when you see someone who is appearing confident at a given moment, it’s very possible they really know what they are doing in that situation, or just as likely, they are bluffing. But you usually can’t tell which!
INTERVIEWS & BRAGGING
Talking about yourself (really, bragging about yourself) is what you will need to do in your essays and interviews. I know, I just told you that people who brag are compensating, but during interviews (meeting with an Admissions Officer, even if the purpose of the meeting is to learn more about a College, is also an interview), you are selling yourself. This requires telling the College representative (Admissions Officer, Professor, Student) about your successes and passions, which might be considered bragging. Put yourself in the seat of that College representative, and think about how you would like a potential student to speak about them-self (brag). If it was me, I would want the student to be confident, assured, and to simply state their accomplishments and passions; in other words, confident, not cocky or annoying.
- “I swam 4 years in High School, qualifying for State Competition each year. My proudest moment was when I took 5th in the 100 Freestyle Finals at State my Senior year, but I felt my best swim was in the 400 Relay. My team took 8th place, when we were slated to take 13th. I think we all swam so well because we did not want to let each other down.”
- Not, “I’m the best freestyler on my whole high school team, and my coach says I have the best freestyle stroke he has ever seen. I think if I had a better coach I would have won State.
Consider topics that will come up in a meeting and practice your responses, and think about how they will sound to the person listening to you brag.
You will likely need to explain why you were less than successful in an area. In those cases, it’s important to create (not make up) a narrative. For example, explaining your less-than-stellar Physics grades:
- “I really enjoyed Physics I, but I felt lost in certain elements of the class. I decided to take Physics II even though I did not have a very good grade in Physics I. I really enjoyed the class, but was doing very poorly until I started working with a tutor. They helped me with the concepts I had not mastered in Physics I, and then I did much better in the class, pulling my C- up to a B.”
Colleges expect applicants to have experienced failures. When discussing those failures, you should demonstrate how that failure made you grow. “Men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed.” – Lloyd Jones
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER place the blame on others for why you did not succeed.
- “I was proud of my team’s performance: we worked so well together despite having our coach leave part way through the season.”
- Not, “I swam really well even though my team’s coaches were really bad.”
- ‘I struggled in Physics I, but it helped when I studied with other students in the class. We learned more and felt better supported by struggling together.”
- Not, “My Physics I teacher had never taught Physics before, and the whole class did badly.”
DEMONSTRATE YOUR PASSION
Knowing what you are passionate about does not mean knowing what sort of career or field you want to enter. College is a time of exploration. Colleges don’t need you to demonstrate your life-long career planning; they want to see you apply yourself to something you enjoy, in the hope that the same drive will empower you to succeed in your new-found passions discovered while in College.
If I put myself in the position of a College Admissions Officer, who must make a cursory review of a large pile of applications, I would establish a framework for assessment. That framework would be something like:
- What did this student do while they were at school, and did they do it well?
- Rigor, GPA, Stamina (i.e. Academics)
- School Clubs and Programs like Plays or Math/Science Olympiad
- What did this student do outside of school, and did they do it well?
- Extracurricular Activities
- Spare time – is it clear how they chose to relax? Did that mean endless hours on Social Media?
- How well has High School prepared this student for the rigors of College?
- Standardized Tests
- Advanced Placement or IB Classes?
- What makes them less qualified/what are their weaknesses?
- What makes them more qualified/what are their strengths?
- Is there something that makes them extraordinary? Intriguing?
- Essay, Letters of Recommendation
Time to step back and assess yourself; a good place to start is by creating your resume.