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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