What happens next?

Imagine a friend told you:

“Six months ago, I started training for a triathlon, I launched my own business, and I enrolled in a class to help me overcome my fear of public speaking.”

You’d probably express your interest or even excitement on their behalf. But your natural response would also almost certainly involve the question, “What happened next?”

What happened next is important context for the story. Without it, you have no idea how much gravity these decisions carried with them. If your friend abandoned those commitments almost immediately and has since moved on to other interests, there’s not much left to say about what they started. Starting was all they did. Nothing happened next.

Some applicants try to beef up their college applications with too many starts. They’ll found a club or start an internet store or make other new commitments, all so they can include the story of starting when they submit their applications.

Starting is important. It’s initiative at its best. And there’s nothing wrong with starting and then stopping something, even if you stop quickly. You can’t go through life carrying every commitment you’ve ever made along with you.

But if your decision to start something is driven largely by your desire to cite that commitment on your college application, you should expect that just about any reader will naturally want to know what happened next. And without that context, it’s hard to give your start much attention in the evaluation. Starting is only the introduction to the story. And nobody raves about a book just because the introduction was so impressive.

You’ve got limited time in your life and limited space on your college application. Starting deserves its share of that time and space, but remember that the real impact almost always comes from what happens next.