Navigating the Application

Impeccable numbers, Nobel literature prize-winning essays, glorious, hard-to-believe-for-seventeen-year-old resumes are just a fraction of the myths enshrouding every high school senior as he/she greets the college applications. Indeed, the finale to your four-year ‘audition’ is a prospect that may skyrocket blood pressures. How do I culminate all the hours thrown into crushing that calculus exam? All the frustrations of fine-tuning my fingers for that violin concerto? How can a distant college admissions officer appreciate how far I’ve gone, despite all the odds stacked against my feet?

One confession I’ll make: Even as someone who has found light at the end of the dark tunnel of applications, I don’t know the secrets of getting in. But I do know that no two paths to dream schools are alike. If you imagine the applications as a platform to ‘prove yourself,’ rewind to that trigonometry exercise during which you deduced that proofs can be constructed in countless ways. Yes, the applications compel you to reflect on who you really are, but remember, it is you and your unparalleled identity that store the potential to impress. Diversity is the beauty in the making of the world, and as Questies, we can bring unheard stories to top-tier universities, brushing streaks of warm colors to a collage.

On the flip side of that, I’m always asked this quintessential question regarding the essay—‘how do I sound unique?’ Music, athletics, service trips, student government, science research (did we get everything?) have been written to death, or so it seems. True, it’s almost impossible to brainstorm a non-recurrent topic. However, a memorable essay is not created by plot, but by ideas. The power of your essay rests in the themes you leave your readers to internalize. For example, in the essays I’ve edited pertinent to music, some students chose to portray it as a solacing safe-haven while others as a gift for an unacquainted audience, each obviously offering a different degree of insight. If you’re still apprehensive about the ‘banality’ of your subject, think back to when you watched an Olympics gymnastics performance. Our eyes are captivated by each acrobatic element, parquet, and choreography though we’ve surely watched them before.

Finally, I encourage you to rationalize about why you found your dream school appealing. Research in depth about campus vibe, teaching philosophies, length of the semester, quotas on classes per year, as well as specific courses that interest you adds excitement to the application process. As an interviewer for my extracurricular commitments, I’m sadly amused occasionally, after reading applicant’s panegyrics, by how jarringly badly they can respond to the ‘why do you want this position?’ question. Food for the thought: If you’re presiding over a respected company, would you hire the most qualified applicant from the pool, or the most loyal?

I’ll leave you with these rambles, my goodwill, and a Churchill quote: “history will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” Remember, as you continue your quest, there are handfuls of Quest Scholars zealous to bridge you to your dreams—some of them are the very reasons of why I’m where I am!

Jessica Li, Quest Scholar, Princeton ’18