At a recent college admissions event, a prospective student got up, and a bit nervously asked a panel of admissions officers, “What do you look for in a college admissions essay? What makes one application stand apart from others?”
I could feel this teen’s heart beating in his rib cage, the look on his face that begged the panel to help him hone in on which of all of his experiences he should write about, what he should share, to make these people see he was a student to admit of hundreds, maybe thousands, to their incoming class. What would help his ass grab some wood in the most competitive game of musical chairs, when in reality, he feels his whole world is a swirl of options and angst and the dread that walks hand-in-hand with self-doubt and uncertainty.
And then I waited for the term that comes up every single time this question is asked.
An admissions officer from an elite school reached for the mic, leaned in a bit, and smiled before saying the very words the vast majority of seventeen-year-olds are not looking to hear. At all. It’s the answer that is the most unwanted, it’s open-ended ness dressed up in vagueness: “We are looking for authentic voice, that authenticity that isn’t definable by any one set of criteria; it’s just there. We know it when we see it. There’s no set topic you need to write about. Just be yourself. We really want to get to know you.”
It’s the answer that is the most unwanted, open-ended and vague: “WE ARE LOOKING FOR AUTHENTIC VOICE.”
The student nodded, pretending that this, in fact, was the most helpful of answers, but the internal monologue was more likely something like this: “That’s really not helpful. Tell me what I should flippin’ write about so you’ll let me into your school… because I have to get into this school because it’s the perfect fit. It’s the perfect school.” And then the boy sat down, his entire body exclaiming, “Sh*t.” I could almost see his heart slowing down, starting now to beat with the resignation that he had absolutely no more sense of the direction in which he should head than when he had asked.
Here’s the thing. This process isn’t about finding your authenticity; rather, it’s about unearthing it, about mining for something that you’ve had all along, something that’s been with you the whole time. You were born with it. You’ve carried it with you every moment of every day, but you may have forgotten it. Or buried it. And the more you’ve distanced yourself from your inherent potential, the scarier it is to go looking for it. “Do I have the right stuff? Do I have what it takes? Am I going to get in?”
Your potential—your true, blessed, creative, computational, number-crunching, solution-finding, idea-sparking, empathetic, “I-am-here-to-make-a -positive-contribution-to-this-planet” potential—is the seed you’ll find within your authentic self, the very core of who you are. And the one thing humanity needs right now is for you to find it. But you need it, too, and not just to get into college. But, man oh man, that’s a good reason to go looking for it, and there’s probably no better time to do it.
This is an invitation to get curious about your potential because when you do that, you can’t help but run smack-dab into the authentic you who’s been waiting all this time for you to show up. And your authentic YOU is what admissions officers are looking for, so you’ve got nothing to lose.
And your authentic
is what admissions officers are looking for.
If you’re not sure where to start, you aren’t alone. If you’re scared and confused and unsure, you aren’t alone. All you need to get started is a willingness to begin a conversation with yourself because what you need, all that you’ve ever needed to write that essay is unabashedly and authentically in you already.
This is what we do here are CompassU. Call us and let’s work together to unearth your authentic story.