I promised the other day in How To Absolutely Forget Every College You Visit that I would blog next about the photos you should take on each of those campus visits. And I shall. Patience, grasshopper. (If you don’t get that reference, you can get context here. FYI, it’s not from Karate Kid.)
But I came across something that I simply had to share. Not just because it validates everything I say about writing your college application essay, but because it’s sheer genius. Shane Snow, tech journalist and cofounder of Contently wrote about the story of Ryan Gosling and how Gosling went from a friendless kid with ADHD who learned to read very late and whose dad bailed on the family, to having Justin Timberlake‘s mom become his guardian and ultimately, you know, becoming Ryan Gosling.
Snow commented that previously he’d been indifferent to Gosling but following the read of his bio, he began flying the Team Gosling flag. Snow references other examples of this, like when we watch the Olympic Games – sports that we barely understand let alone follow outside two weeks every four years. We go crazy for certain athletes. Why? Because we’ve all lost someone, and most of us don’t appreciate a bully. So we blew up Twitter when we thought a reporter was getting too aggressive with the questions about Bode Miller’s deceased brother. And we cheered extra loudly when skeleton bobsledder Noelle Pikus-Pace won silver, after coming out of retirement following a miscarriage and a broken leg in Calgary. On it goes – we care more because we’re invested in these athletes’ stories. We’ve been given access to the other parts of their lives, parts that resemble our own. And in that recognition there is empathy and connection.
So how does this relate to college admission? My number one piece of advice to applicants is to share your story, and share it well. There’s a difference between being an applicant whose parent has died (at a large college, there can statistically be thousands of such applicants) and being an applicant who lost a parent and then wore that parent’s tie for a year, every day. The first is a label, the second is a story.
We all have stories. I hear from some of my students that there is “nothing special” about them. I love that statement, because then I start to probe. And I find out that their father immigrated to the United States inside the tire of an eighteen wheeler so someday his children could go to college. Or that they were homeschooled since kindergarten and have started their own cake decorating and baking business. Or that they’ve basically been on their own since their attorney father went to prison for drugs.
Our stories are not always our circumstances. Sometimes our stories are our choices, like my student who is passionate about educating other young people about human trafficking. Or my student who has devoted himself to his faith and to re-igniting a love of that faith in other students.
When there are thousands or hundreds of applicants, or even ONE other applicant, just like you, with the same GPA and test scores and general extracurricular stats, what do you think makes the difference? Who gets admitted? Who gets the scholarship? Whose Admission Counselor runs down to their boss’s office and waits outside, stalking them until they get off the phone to burst in with, “We have to admit him!” (Yes, I’ve been that boss. And I’ve been that Admission Counselor too.)
The difference is the story. Share your story. As Contently says, “Those who tell stories rule the world.”