When not to find a better way

Finding a better way to do something worth doing is almost always valuable provided that everyone affected agrees that it’s better. Your better way to organize inventory at your part-time job isn’t actually better if your boss and coworkers don’t agree. The better day and time to host your club meetings isn’t better if it makes participation more difficult for the rest of the club members. And the point guard on the basketball team can’t decide that she has a better offensive plan if the coach and the team aren’t on board with the new approach.

That’s why the very best strategy to present compelling college applications is to follow directions. Don’t look for a better way.

You might decide it’s better for you to send extra letters of recommendation, or to write an essay that’s twice the maximum allowable word length, or to write “see attached resume” rather than list the activities in the space provided. But none of those decisions are better for the admissions officer evaluating the application.

Offices of admission spend months crafting their applications to give them the information they need in the manner they’re prepared to best evaluate. Unfortunately, that process is not collaborative. Applicants aren’t invited to weigh in with their own suggestions as to how they can best present themselves. So the only way to ensure you don’t do something that frustrates your reader is to work within the system they’ve given you.

If you’ve found better ways throughout high school, especially those that benefited everyone involved, share them on your applications. But do so using the space and the opportunity as they’ve been provided to you. Follow the instructions and resist the urge to find a better way.