September is a month like no other. It’s the month where parents lament (for the most part) that the summer is almost over, and students suddenly realize that they haven’t done half the things that they had originally planned. As they scramble to recall pre-summer school routines, high school seniors have an additional thing to worry about: their college applications and more dreadfully, college essays.
My objective for this month’s blog is to lighten their burden a little by spelling out 5 skills that will definitely serve to impress colleges. So seniors, as you brainstorm content for your essays, I want you to keep these 5 skills front and center and come up with as many anecdotes/examples to help demonstrate these skills.
Ready? Let’s go.
Being selected as President of the ASB or Editor-in-Chief of your school newspaper is no doubt impressive and will definitely showcase your leadership skills. But not everyone gets these opportunities, so if you find yourself in this position, don’t hit the panic button just yet. Remember that leadership extends beyond titles and formal roles. For instance, did you ever:
Stay back to tutor a friend who was struggling in class?
Stand up to a bully to protect the victim?
Babysit a younger sibling while your parents were busy working?
Volunteer to help out in the school cafeteria?
Take up a part-time job to support your family?
Motivate your team to stay positive despite their losing streak?
That is leadership. All these little things count - even more than you realize.
2. Intellectual Curiosity
This is another key ingredient of a successful college application. Remember that beyond the fun and freedom that college promises, the primary goal is to expand your academic horizons. So, colleges want to know: how have you taken advantage of academic opportunities that have come your way? And if nothing fell into your lap, how have you proactively sought them out?
Did you pursue a free class on Coursera or edX to teach yourself a new subject?
Did you conduct independent research to explore a topic that you are passionate about?
Did you collaborate with a university professor to help him with his research?
Or if these ideas seem overwhelming, you could demonstrate intellectual curiosity by simply asking great questions in class or even meeting with your professor during office hours to understand and explore intellectual topics in-depth.
3. Critical Thinking
This is a great skill to have, no matter what major or career you intend to pursue in the future. And in fact, a key reason why corporations love to recruit at liberal arts colleges is because students have been formally trained to think critically and problem solve. Demonstrating these skills as a high schooler is sure to win you points. So how do you do this?
Reflect back on your Language Arts or Social Studies classes. How have you dug beneath the surface to uncover what the author was really trying to say? Were you able to establish connections between seemingly disparate topics or identify biases in the writing?
When you faced a problem, how did you assess the situation objectively and rationally and make a sound decision?
All these are great examples to demonstrate critical thinking skills.
4. Communication skills
Having good communication skills is often a pre-requisite to being a strong leader but this skill is important enough to warrant a separate line item. In today’s world, it is not enough to simply do the job; it is equally important to communicate the impact of your work clearly and succinctly. Colleges test your written communication skills by asking you to write essays within recommended word limits. And they can evaluate your oral communication skills through interviews. But beyond this, think about how you have demonstrated solid communication skills both inside and outside your classroom.
Are you often your group presenter?
Were you selected to lead school tours for new families?
Have you been writing for your school newspaper all through high school?
Do you blog regularly?
Have you won essay-writing competitions?
In a rapidly changing world, where the jobs of tomorrow are not properly defined today, the skill of being adaptable and creative is highly valued. Many students equate creativity to artistic forms or expressions like painting, sculpting, poetry, and storytelling. But I want to remind you that you can also demonstrate creativity through problem solving, engineering, and through leadership. Which brings me to my final point:
You don’t need to compartmentalize each of the skills discussed above. Many of them can be demonstrated through one powerful anecdote and that is when you know you have struck gold.
So, my dear seniors, although it may feel like you have a mighty mountain to climb from September onwards, hang in there. Dedicate yourself to your academics and college applications like your life depended on it and I promise: it will be June before you know it.