Make college applications all about you

Talking only about yourself is a lousy way to have a conversation (and a surefire way to make sure a first date never leads to a second date).  But it's a great way to fill out a college application.

Unless a college specially asks you to talk about someone or something other than yourself, every essay and short answer question should focus on you.  You're the subject.  Bring the focus back to you as often as you can.

Even a question about why you want to attend the college should focus on you, not the college.

This applicant is making the college the focus:

"I visited Reed last summer and the students seemed very friendly and open.  They made me feel comfortable and knew I could see myself going to school there.” 

We don't learn much about that applicant.  But this one inserts himself into the response.

“When I visited Reed with my mom last summer, I knew it was the right place for me when I overheard one student say to his friends, “Speaking of bacteria…” and they all just started laughing hilariously.  I don’t even know what they were talking about or why it was so funny.  But it was probably something dorky, and that’s exactly who I am.  I’ve never known where the cool party was in high school and I’ve never cared.  I want to hang out with kids who aren’t ashamed that they’re terrible at sports but great at reading, like me.  I want to be with kids who think bacteria jokes are funny.”   

More details about you and your experience almost always make your story more compelling.  This applicant's description of a challenge he overcame doesn't help him stand out:

“I went to my teacher for extra help every day after school for three weeks.  Because of my hard work, I eventually started to understand chemistry better.”

But in this revision, the additional detail about his experience makes us feel like we were there with him. 

"For those three weeks, Mr. Chapman knew I was going to show up at his classroom at 3:05 p.m. every day.  I’d sit at a desk right in the front row while Mr. Chapman explained chemistry problems on the board.  And at some point during our second week of working together, I realized that I was starting to get it.  I was doing the problems on my own and Mr. Chapman was just smiling at me proudly."

Colleges spend countless hours crafting applications that will help them get to know their applicants better.  If you want your applications to help you stand out, give colleges what they want.  Focus on you.  Make yourself the subject of your stories.  Put enough detail in that nobody else applying could write the same essay.

College applications are a rare opportunity when you can talk about yourself at length without seeming self-obsessed.  So enjoy it.