Why Being Authentic, Not Competitive, May Be Your Ticket To A Top College

By Anirudh Kumar

There's no question about it -- high-tier colleges get more and more selective each year. Schools select from the best applicants, more students strive to be the best, schools select even higher-quality applicants, and the deadly cycle continues, creating an environment where top-notch schools admit less than 10% of tens of thousands of students. Considering Yale? Consider being better than 93% of your competitors. How about Stanford? Only if you think you're in the top 5%! Now that so many students fight for the highest possible grades, work multiple jobs, join countless student organizations, and take initiative in their community, a single question should linger in the minds of students such as yourself: "How can I possibly stand out now?"

Here's the thing -- colleges know just as well as you do that intelligent and active applicants are all over the place. The trick? Take a step back from the chaotic world of admissions and make sure you're an authentic applicant, not an overly competitive one. Schools like Stanford and Yale are packed with geniuses who had 4.0 GPAs, 2400 SATs, and multiple awards from competitions while in high school. What these schools lack and desire may surprise you.

I'll offer a tale of two people -- myself and a friend of mine (who we'll call Jack). Jack was king of the school; he had perfect grades, stellar scores, was on the varsity team for two sports, was the president of three (three!) school clubs, and clocked in over 200 hours of community service. And then there was me; I definitely had admirable grades and test scores, but I was hardly involved in as many programs as Jack. Instead, I focused on what I liked doing and put my heart, not brain, into my activities (I was a soccer referee, loved helping out at the animal shelter, and messed around with the stock market in my free time).

I got into my dream college while Jack was rejected. Was he more athletic than me? Probably. Was he smarter? No doubt. Did he have a lot less free time than I did? Yep. But did he have what colleges look for? The answer is no (he definitely got into a good number of fantastic schools, just not a few of the higher-ranked universities). The key difference was that my application focused on my passion, not my ability to work ruthlessly. My essays clarified that I really loved investing in stocks, and my descriptions of working at the shelter could make any admissions officer see my love for animals. There's a fine line between being competitive and authentic -- after reading hundreds and perhaps thousands of applications, evaluators can spot the difference between someone who's going out of their way to pad their application and someone who takes a legitimate passion and applies it to his or her efforts. Jack was a good friend of mine, and I knew for a fact that he wasn't at all interested in one of the sports he was participating in, and two of the three clubs he was "president" of were hardly clubs at all -- they were created on the spot to strength his "experiences" section on the application.

The point? If you're doing your best in academics and extracurriculars, hats off to you; having been in high school just two years ago, I know firsthand how tough it can be. Just remember to take a step back and ask yourself whether what you're doing really matters to you, not colleges. Pride yourself in enjoying your activities because at the end of the day, admissions officers want humans, not robots.

Visit Synocate.com for more articles and help on how to serve your college application needs.