College Corner: How To Write An Authentic Narrative for College Applications, Part 1

Every new academic year is a new beginning for students. Many of them are simply excited to start a new grade, while others are looking forward to all the activities that come with school. There is one set of students that begin every new year with the overwhelming cloud of college essays over them: the rising seniors. After mentoring and working with these set of students for the last seven years, one common worry for many of them is that of writing the “perfect personal statement.” Even though I always share with students that there is no such thing as a “perfect” essay, I do know there are important factors that if highlighted correctly, will allow them to ensure they share a thorough narrative of themselves.

In today’s college corner, I want to share one of the topics students should articulate when writing their personal statements for the Common Application or should integrate into their PIQs (personal insight questions):

1.     Academic character

While academic character encompasses test scores, grades, GPA and everything involving academics, it is important for students to remember that colleges and universities don’t just look at these numbers; they see their essays side by side to a profile of their school that provides them greater context of a student’s academic environment and access to resources. This is important because if a student attends a high school with limited access to more rigorous curriculum (AP, IB, dual enrollment, etc.) the university will not use that against the student, but it will be important for the student to highlight all their other academic accomplishments. However, if a student attends a high school with an array of opportunities for students to participate in college-level coursework, but the student did not take advantage of these, it is necessary for that student to explain why. Perhaps they were dealing with health issues; perhaps they were busy working because of financial need and could not commit to the additional hours of homework required for those classes; perhaps they suffered a loss. Whatever the situation may be, it is essential to share as much as possible about their high school journey. Colleges and universities want students that can demonstrate they will be successful whether through intrinsic motivation or by seeking help when needed. Instead of allowing the transcript to tell the story, students need to do it for themselves. 

To further strengthen this portion, students must also seek strong recommenders that can attest to their academic drive. The goal is three recommendation letters: one from a counselor, one from a teacher that has seen their growth and if possible, one from a teacher whose class they struggled in but persevered. A letter from a teacher whose class they earned an A in because it was their favorite subject may not be as strong as a letter from a teacher whose class they earned a B in, after attending tutoring and seeking additional support. The goal is for students to select recommenders who can highlight their determination and ability to rise above the challenge. This is all part of demonstrating strong academic character. 

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Alma Renteria

Alma Renteria

Alma-Delia Renteria is a proud product of Lynwood schools. After graduating UC Riverside, with a B.A. in English and a year earlier than anticipated, she decided to commit her “gap year” to City Year. After City Year Los Angeles, Alma went on to purse a teaching career with Teach For America Los Angeles. Upon joining TFA, Alma began her education career as a middle school teacher. It was while teaching that she realized the need to do her part to help serve the community she grew up in and decided to run for office, getting elected to the Lynwood School Board at only 23 years old. Alma completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University and is currently pursuing a 2nd Masters in Education Leadership and her Admin Credential. She was recently appointed by the Speaker to the Instructional Quality Commission and also serves as a Digital Learning Instructional Coach at a dual immersion school in Pico Rivera.

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