Addressing the 2019 NACAC National Conference, Jabari Sellers identified himself as, above anything else, a “proud queer black nerd”. Effectively, this sets the tone of his speech and the route he is taking to explain his experience serving as the Assistant to the Director of his school’s college admissions. At EdNet, we are able to gain special access to NACAC’s podcast series, ‘College Admissions: Decoded’. This month, we were delighted to hear Mr. Jabari Sellers share his story of “fighting for what doesn’t fit”. He reflects on his own experiences as an LGBT African-American person to draw attention to how institutes have, intentionally or unintentionally, set up a ‘traditional’ path within the sphere of academics. Straying from said path may appear to be out of the norm which ends up limiting students rather than allowing them to explore their potential to the fullest.
Inspired by Mr. Sellers’ thought-provoking address, EdNet seeks to help students looking for an overseas education discover those parts of their life that may be considered ‘untraditional’ in the realm of academics. In our years of experience in education counselling, we have seen students attempt to stick to the traditionally defined boundaries of what is considered “academically viable”. In simpler words, they find it more meaningful to focus on their report cards, certificates and medals, instead of celebrating what makes them unique – like their favourite TV shows or their latest music choices. Students cannot be squarely blamed for their apprehension, as Mr. Sellers points out in his speech – this is a mindset that the educational atmosphere creates, deeming facets of our life that make us who we are ‘unimportant’.
In this blog, we aim to help students break out of this stereotype of the ‘intellectually-inclined student’ and embrace the ‘well-rounded college applicant’. The difference is one we have pointed out to our students time and again. While academic achievement continues to be of great importance, a diversity of interests and a student’s interactions with their surroundings and popular culture are a stronger indicator of their cognitive ability and intellectual strength. The music you enjoy, the movies you watch and the books your read define who you are. Yes, even if those books are comics, the movies are teen-centric or the music of A$AP Rocky! They are your choices and including them in your application is what will make it stand out and worthy of consideration.
Your college essays – the Common App essay, UC essays, and supplement essays are mediums for you to communicate your passions to the admission board. Rest assured that your transcripts and resume will convey your academic strengths and co-curricular accomplishments. The reason why universities aboard ask for these essays is because they want to learn more about you, your thought process and your writing style. For some supplement essays, like USC’s short takes, even writing skill is not up for consideration as the space provided is only for a few words. To ask a question as simple as your ‘favorite food’, surely, the university’s intention is not to judge your intellectual calibre but to know you more as a person. The intrigue that you can cause with your choices can make a remarkable impression on the college admissions board.
Unconventional choices are not only encouraged by colleges but are also actively implemented. For example, did you know that Duke University has a class for ‘Wasting Time’? Or that Harvard conducts lectures on the history of Hip-Hop music and culture? That’s why, before you start writing your college essays, it is important to learn what kind of a student your dream college is looking for.
There is no short-cut method of doing this.
You have to dedicate at least an hour or two to go through the university’s website and subscribe to their newsletter for future updates. This exercise will help you find the social, emotional, artistic, intellectual and academic areas of the university that also align with your own preferences in these criteria. Your love for, say, anime, may find heed in one of the university’s student organizations. Mentioning the same in your ‘why’ essay will not only explain to the college your knowledge of their amenities, but also help them envision your presence and contributions in their campus.
The universities you apply to, especially those in popular study abroad destinations like the US, will take note of your efforts at communication and interaction. Digging in deeper into the information a college provides will help the admissions board in confirming your genuine interest. Get in touch with your admissions counsellor – personal exchanges will further cement you as a candidate who is serious about their future plans.
So, geek out a little bit. Once you are done with your studies for the day, spend some time to explore your ‘unconventional’ interests. Mr. Sellers draws attention to the “underused medium of contemporary film and music, or (it’s) the underappreciated medium of comics, or anime, or television” in college applications. Preparing for college is not just restricted to your intellectual growth, your creative and emotional development is just as important. And often times, it is our media choices and our thoughts on the same indicate these two aspects of our personality most effectively. So, if you are passionate about the Pokémon series or are a strong advocate for LGBT rights, don’t shy away from addressing these interests.
Remember, “you” are the most crucial part of your college application. The main ingredient of a recipe we concoct for every one of our students!