Just Being Yourself Can Help You Get Into College

Pink_aber_shirt I’m not Arun Ponnusamy, the former Caltech and University of Chicago Assistant Director of Admissions and the usual contributor to this “Inside the Admissions Office” column. I’ve never even worked in an admissions office. But I think I can teach you a little something about college admissions by sharing some things Arun might not tell you.

Arun wears a lot of pink. I don’t know many men who can wear pink and really pull it off, but I swear Arun can do it. He’s actually got what some people might call a pretty well developed fashion sense, which is interesting considering he was raised in rural Ohio. Think small town. Think farms. Think of a situation where his dad wasn’t a surgeon in his small town. His father was the surgeon in his small town. To watch Arun coolly navigate the hippest areas of Los Angeles, all decked out in his silky pink shirts, hip-hop music playing in his grey Scion, you’d never know that instead of a paper route or a job in retail, his part time job during high school summers was shoveling cow poop.

That varied background is why we love Arun. He can talk about Jay-Z’s new CD, the intricacies of Plato’s Republic, and life growing up in a rural farm town. From LA to Chicago to small town Ohio, Arun’s worn a lot of pink shirts, read a lot of good books, and shoveled a lot of cow poop.

Now, for those of you who’ve never met Arun, do you like him already? Does he seem like an interesting guy? Parents, if you were going to go back to college next month, do you think you might want to have Arun as a roommate? If you answered “no,” then, well, you probably just don’t like pink clothing (and you’ve probably never seen any on Arun). But if you answered “yes,” then you’ve just learned a little something about getting into college.

A lot of getting into college today means being comfortable with who you already are. Mark Twain once said, “’Be yourself’ is the worst advice you can give some people.” Still, that’s my advice. Kids today are so driven to impress the colleges that it’s the rare student who is comfortable with just being who he is. Kids should be proud of their grades, test scores, and accomplishments. But they should also be proud of everything else, from inelegant summer jobs to questionable fashionable choices. You never know—the admissions officer reading your file might have a closet full of pink shirts.

Kevin McMullin founded Collegewise in 1999. He’s never even been to a farm and he really doesn’t look good in pink shirts, but he’s still proud of who he is.