I spent most of Monday doing my duties as an academic judge for a local Junior Miss pageant. Deciding who'd earned the highest academic achievement scores (which is based on qualities like strength of schedule, GPA and test scores) was a lot like being a college admissions officer. For example…
1. I'm impressed by the kid who takes hard classes, even if she doesn't get A's. And if you take easy classes and gets A's, I have to wonder why you didn't challenge yourself more.
2. If you take AP classes, you should take the AP tests. Not taking them makes me wonder why you didn't.
3. The PSAT is a practice test. I'm more interested in how you did on the real thing (the SAT or the ACT).
4. When a school ranks its students, it makes my job easier because it's a nice shortcut. But I don't need that numerical rank to figure out who the highest achievers in the class were.
5. Transcripts, GPAs and test scores don't tell me anything about who you really are.
So let me just riff about #5 for a second.
I was only judging one thing–academic achievement. I wasn't trying to decide if each candidate deserved to win the entire contest. So in that way, my role was much different from that of an admissions officer.
Still, I couldn't help thinking how lifeless transcripts and test scores are. That's why the essays in college applications are so important. That's why you can't waste that opportunity by writing a safe, unrevealing essay about how your trip to France taught you to appreciate that foreign countries are different. In fact, it would have been hard not to resent (a little) the kid who writes that essay.
Your college application can't just be a lifeless stack of paper. You should use your essays to inject your personality and maybe even a little soul into the process. When you get that opportunity, don't waste it. Use it.