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"Flaunt It!": A College Application Success Interview

by Sophie Herron, on May 23, 2014 3:14:00 PM

Michelle Sheu, our intern and one of our students is graduating in just under a month. She will be attending one of her top choice schools, Macaulay Honors at Baruch!

We are very sad to see her go, but we made sure to sit her down and get her dish on the college admissions process, college essay topics, and deciding where to apply. 

Michelle SheuSophie Herron (SH): Michelle, I know you had a long admissions process, and was wondering if you could share some of your insights. What did you learn from your college applications?

Michelle Sheu (MS): It’s okay to brag about yourself!Especially when you figure out what you love the most about yourself and hope to highlight throughout the process. I felt that knowing these key characteristics about myself (hobbies, dreams, aspirations and on and on) made it easier to pinpoint personal strengths and convey them with the only tools we're given: pen and paper.

SH: You mean the college essay, right? 

MS: Yes, exactly! The college essay is difficult to write because its structure is different from the essays students are used to writing in class. I am used to writing critically, comparatively or persuasively with the support of texts or evidence to write factually. Arguably, the essay could be used to "persuade" admission committees why you should be admitted, but often times the essay requires more oomph to be memorable. Drawing the line between the two was something important to note, and proved to be an interesting and valuable lesson I learned from writing my own essay.

When I took the course this fall (Ed: Michelle took our Essay in a Day course)it helped me understand the elements of both a good storyteller and a good story. I believe the essay helped strengthen my application and somewhat compensate for any weaker parts. It brought dimensions to my application that prompted me to reveal more intimate, unique characteristics which ultimately distinguished me as an individual from the masses.

SH: What was your essay about?

MS: [Laughs] Dumpster diving. 

SH: I love that. Many students would back away from writing about topics outside normal extracurriculars. What advice would you give to students working on their college applications essays?

MS: Be genuine, and never ever lie. You can't cover yourself up with guile or outright fabrication—the real you will always show. Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself, but leave room to brag! You've probably heard this a million times now, but don’t forget that the essay is the main platform to invite admissions committees into your life. No one is defined by a number, whether it be your test grade or number of extracurriculars, because there are so many traits in one’s unique character. Flaunt it!

SH: I'm glad you mentioned that. I have to tell students all the time to stop being down on their accomplishments: each success, no matter how small, is a big deal! I love reading stories about day-to-day successes in the kitchen or on the subway, as much as about standing down bullies or sports championships. Do you have any funny stories about your applications?

MS: Well... There is a close-by university that three of my five older siblings attended, but I adamantly refused to attend or even apply to. (I'm not going to say the name!) I just did not want to attend the same school. But my mom begged, pleaded and even tried to bribe me into applying and ultimately attending this school. And I always refused.

One night in February, as I was sleeping, my mom was all sneaky and applied to the school for me. She wasn’t sure what to put in the extracurriculars so she typed in vague activities that barely describe what I do. As for the supplemental essay, I have no idea what magic she did with that. My involvement with this application only involved me existing and breathing.

Three weeks later, I received a large envelope in the mail from the school--I was accepted with a $10,000 scholarship!

I declined their offer of admission.

SH: [Laughing] Well handled, Michelle. Thank you for sharing that. I think a lot of students and parents can relate. Any advice for families as they approach the college admissions process together?

MS: It’s an extremely time-consuming, seemingly paradoxical experience that is, likely, the first major decision you will make as an independent adult. You will laugh at the quirky supplements you’re burdened with, you will cry several times either out of joy or disappointment--or both, and you will never look at the admissions process the same way again after it’s done. (And parents: try to let your student take the wheel.)

That being said, my final advice is to stay optimistic, open-minded and adaptable and trust that everything will fall in place!

Michelle Sheu (pronounced like “shoe”) is a senior at Benjamin Cardozo High School in the depths of Queens, NY, and will attend Macaulay Honors Baruch College in the fall. When she's not blogging or vigorously researching and compiling documents at Story2, she can be found getting lost on the streets of downtown Manhattan, listening to bizarre but hauntingly awesome music and vandalizing her sketchbook. 

Topics:college admission