Your College Applications: Don't Be Modest

When it comes to your college applications, don’t be modest. Of course, don’t be arrogant, either. High school students often have difficulty putting their best foot forward. Sometimes this is a matter of genuine, natural modesty. Sometimes it’s a matter of low self-esteem. But when it comes to applying to college, hold back nothing.

Long ago, there was a Canon camera television commercial with (then) tennis star, Andre Agassi, where he says confidently, “Image is everything!” In the world of college admissions, you have to have substance behind your application, naturally. But it doesn’t hurt to work on your image a bit.

This is where your so-called student profile comes in. What is a student profile? Well, there is no such thing as a “student profile form.” You have to create an image of yourself through various means, such as essays, short responses, your activities list, and maybe even interviews. The result is that the admission staff at the colleges where you are applying should get a complete picture of you from these smaller pieces. It’s the mosaic principle.

I recall advising my son on his college application process. I gave him instructions for creating his activities list, also know as a resume or brag sheet. He went away for a while and came back with a categorized summary of what he felt were all the activities he had pursued and waspursuing since 9th grade. After spending some time reviewing what he gave me (which didn’t take all that long), I was surprised to see that he had left out more than just a few of his past accomplishments, some of which were significant, not only in my view but also in the eyes of most college application readers.


When we discussed what he had written, I asked him about why he had left off some of these endeavors. I had taken the time to write down a list of the missing items. His answer was typical of more than a few high schools seniors I have advised over the years. He said, “I’ve forgotten about some of these things. The others, I thought, might make me look like I was bragging.” I was touched by his humility, but at the same time I was frustrated that he was unwilling to take advantage of every “marketing” point that he had going for himself. So, I began working with him on a process I call achievement dentistry.

“What the heck is achievement dentistry?” you ask. I came to coin this term after repeated encounters with students like my son who were reluctant to mention (a.k.a. “market”) in their college applications the full scope of their activities and accomplishments over the course of their school careers. Ultimately, I came to feel that getting these young people to be forthcoming about all that they had done was like pulling teeth. Thus, the term achievement dentistry.

Overcoming your modesty doesn’t just apply to listing your activities and achievements. Be alert for those little so-called “short-response” questions on applications. Don’t just quickly dash off answers without first checking to see how you can help your cause. Give them some thought. Sometimes an application will ask for seemingly minor information such as, “Write a brief description of how you spent your time last summer.” This is really a mini-essay. For this one, don’t tell them how bored you were or how late you slept in. Tell them about your summer job and how you pursued your photography hobby. Show them that you are a vital and energetic person. Get the idea?

Another piece of your marketing campaign comes from your essay(s), sometimes called a personal statement. This is your big chance to shine. Don’t be mundane or cute. Imagine how many essays these folks have to read. Make yours stand out. Whatever your choices are for an essay topic, avoid the typical topics–sports, pets, vacations, and so forth. Dig deep down and come up with a significant statement that applies to you in a special way. These people want to know what goes on inside you.

Finally, don’t overlook your recommendations. When you ask a teacher or your counselor to write on your behalf, make sure they know enough about you to sound convincing. You might suggest some personal information about yourself that will help them better present you to the admissions committee.

Keep an eye on your image. It may not be everything, as some old tennis players have claimed, but it sure can’t hurt to optimize it. Speaking of Canon cameras … get the picture here?


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.