Applying to college is an exercise in storytelling: your job is to think of each element of the application as a chapter in the story you tell to colleges.

Just as powerful stories require clear structure and careful planning, so do the various pieces of your application. Let’s take a look at those pieces and think a little bit about what each one can capture about the applicant. (This is what I like to call your StoryMap.)

For part I, we'll cover the written elements contained in the actual application, including letters of recommendation.

Academic Record: the most important element of any application. Your transcript reveals to admissions not only your performance in school (a reflection on your study habits and work ethic), but also your willingness to challenge yourself, based on the advanced classes available at your high school. Standardized test scores are intended to help admissions get a sense of how you compare to students outside your school.

Activities Section: how you choose to spend your non-academic time. Admissions are interested in how committed you are to the organizations you’re a part of: how many years have you spent in a single activity? How have you improved, as evidenced by awards and leadership positions? 

Personal Statement: the centerpiece of your individual story. The personal statement is an opportunity for you to open up and show admissions who you really are. They want to hear your voice, know how your circumstances have shaped your worldview, understand what makes you tick—to tell your story in the way that only you can tell it. 

Supplemental Writings: pieces assigned by individual colleges. They want to see how you go about supplying specific information that will help them determine how good a fit you’d be with their college community. These prompts are usually a prime opportunity to show off the amount of research you’ve done into that particular college.

Letters of Recommendation: almost like background checks by the adults who know you best. Colleges generally require recommendations from two teachers and a counselor, and sometimes request rec letters from more specialized instructors or coaches to better understand how you’ve developed certain skills. These adult perspectives add credibility to the claims you make about your character, so choose wisely and build relationships now!

Stay tuned for Part II: Additional Information, Online Presence, Artistic Supplements, Interviews, Demonstrated Interest, and more!

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