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Should you come across as a finished product?

Many students feel pressure to present a complete version of themselves. They view their application like a presentation at a science fair, illustrating the outcome of an experiment:

“I have a hypothesis about who I am, I have experimented, I have data, I have an analysis, and a conclusion.”

While some of that might be true, the end of the scientific method is never the conclusion. Science requires us to keep going, to investigate the next phase of whatever it is you need to discover.

What colleges really want to know is “what's next?”

When I work with a 17 year old student who wants to study business to become an investment banker–more specifically–a private equity manager, I am sure he means to impress me. Does he really understand what that means and what the path will entail? He has likely been fed messages from school and influenced by adults. Being a complete package may seem advantageous, especially to parents who imagine they are helping smooth the path for their kids, who will then slide into a job they enjoy with minimal effort, direction, and training.


But the truth is that a student with such a specific goal needs to be able to backtrack and show the actual steps he took on his own to arrive at that conclusion.

The same applies when a student underestimates the incredibly arduous journey of getting to medical school.  When my sophomore says that she wants to be a pediatric cardiologist and can’t articulate why beyond  “wanting to help people,” that's a red flag. I see her desire to present herself as more special than other applicants. But it’s only authentic and meaningful if she can explain what drove her, both externally and internally, to arrive at that conclusion. And will she keep exploring and build what's required to make that dream happen for the remaining two years of high school, four years of college, and beyond?

What’s better than being complete? Expressing to admissions that you have unanswered questions that were sparked by something you learned in class, heard on a podcast, and watched in a movie is far more powerful because that shows your excitement about the next steps in your journey.


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