Some students are confident to the point of arrogance, especially in Silicon Valley, where everyone wants to be the next Steve Jobs. With a little bit of professional experience under their belts, these students act as though they are experts at entrepreneurship. They believe that talking about themselves in an exaggerated, boastful tone will catch the eye of admissions committees.
Unfortunately, these students are mistaken. No matter how impressive your academic accomplishments are; no matter how many awards you’ve won; no matter how many internships you’ve completed; no matter how many start-ups you’ve founded or websites you’ve built – you still have a lot to learn. If you didn’t need to learn anything more after high school, why would you want to attend college in the first place? And why would a college admit someone who had nothing left to learn?
One of my goals is to show students the value of humility in their applications. Humility doesn’t mean self-deprecation. It doesn’t mean hiding your achievements, minimizing them, or apologizing for them. It simply means being honest and self-aware, and acknowledging that you are still young and inexperienced compared to the adults who will be teaching you in college. You are only at the beginning of your educational journey; you certainly haven’t reached the summit!
Admissions committees want to see that you are a person of good character who will contribute positively to the community. They are not impressed by students who are so preoccupied with financial success that they are ready to trample everyone else on their way to the top.
Humility is a sign of good character. It shows that you are flexible and open to new ideas, and that you don’t always put yourself first. Arrogant people who think they know all the answers are too closed-minded to learn. Selfish people who see college only as a way to launch a career and get rich quickly won’t bother to look beyond themselves and help make the college community a better place.
Among my students, those with the best results are confident yet humble. Be like them. Show the admissions committee that you are well prepared to take on new academic challenges and to contribute positively to campus life, but don’t write your applications as though you are such a phenomenon that college has nothing left to teach you.
Many of my students are California natives. They’ve grown up with beautiful weather, a casual dress code, and a laid-back lifestyle. Some of them can’t imagine living anywhere else. Even those who are attracted by the prestige of top-ranked East Coast and Midwest colleges are concerned that they won’t adapt well to a different cultural setting.
Students who are determined to attend a top college in California face a tough battle. Stanford now has the lowest admission rate in the country, and gaining a spot at a UC campus is harder than ever. Due to a growing population of outstanding high school students and increasing budget cuts, admission rates at UCs have plummeted. Being a California resident no longer guarantees that a student will gain admission to the California college of his or her dreams, or even to the UC campus most desired.
For students willing to cast their net a bit wider, there are many excellent colleges all over the country. However, students willing to attend college out of state need to realize that California culture is not omnipresent. The culture at, for instance, Cornell, located in chilly upstate New York, may be very different from the culture they grew up with here. Even Western states such as Washington, Colorado, or Arizona may be different from what Californians are used to. Philadelphia is not San Francisco; New York City is not Los Angeles. There are significant differences between the coasts and among metropolitan regions. Students who want to attend a top college outside of California need to be open-minded and willing to try new things.
Looking beyond California for college opens up a lot more options and increases the chances of successful admission. I encourage all my students to apply to at least one or two out-of-state schools. Given the competitive California environment, some students may need to apply to more than two in order to optimize outcomes.
Students, you are more adaptable and resilient than you think. If you approach life in a different part of the country as a novel adventure, you will probably enjoy the experience. And you can always return to California after graduation! It’s four years, not your entire life, and those four years may open up vistas you hadn’t imagined.
Summer is almost here. Before you pack your bags for a relaxing vacation, consider scheduling some college visits. For rising juniors and seniors, summer is a great time to visit colleges that interest you.
I encourage my students to visit as many colleges as they can. Ideally, visits should occur before the application process even begins.
Designing a college list can be overwhelming. With hundreds of institutions to choose from, how do you decide which ones would be the best fit for you? And further, how do you convince your top choices that you would be a great fit for them?
College visits are a very helpful way to decide which colleges deserve a spot on your list, and which should be omitted. Even if you’ve read a college’s website from top to bottom, it’s difficult to imagine what daily life would be like there unless you physically spend time on campus. Taking a campus tour and chatting with current students will give you a much more vivid understanding of a college’s overall atmosphere.
Visiting a college is valuable because it allows you to visualize yourself as a student there. Pay attention to the language your tour guide uses to describe the college. Do the students seem energetic and driven, or relaxed? Is the campus dense and walkable, or more spread out? Can you see yourself fitting in socially? Can you imagine yourself walking or biking to class every day?
The ultimate question you should ask yourself is: how do you feel when you walk around campus? Can you envision yourself spending four years here?
If the answer is no, then you can easily cross that college off your list! On the other hand, if you feel very comfortable at a particular college, it probably belongs on your list. A college that looks great on paper might be underwhelming in person, and a college you feel lukewarm about might seem much more appealing when you actually visit.
It’s impossible to design a college list based solely on ranking, location, and academic offerings. You need to make sure the colleges you apply to will also be a good fit for your personality and lifestyle preferences. Successful applicants are able to convince an admissions committee that they are a good fit for that particular college. And it’s much easier to sell yourself as a good fit when you’ve already visited campus and have established a physical and emotional connection with the college.
My students have always enjoyed their college visits and found them to be very beneficial. Visiting colleges clarifies which colleges they truly prefer, and makes their applications much more compelling.