If you missed Part 1 of this topic, go read it here first and then continue on.
So here’s the thing: When you’re truly differentiated, you kinda know it. You might be the type of person who realizes that you could come across as braggy in certain situations if you’re not careful, because you’ve already done a lot in your short life.
Or if you’ve had to overcome some tough sh!t just based on cards you’ve been dealt. You know it.
For these types, it’s often only a matter of corralling the evidence that you already have into a meaningful form of an essay, without sounding like you’re bragging, and/or sounding like you’re trying to get admitted because of your personal backstory. Everything needs to be included in the right place at the right time. Too often, we see BSers trying to shoehorn some factoid or tidbit from their life into some essay because they’re really really enamored of that factoid, and they’re convinced that the adcom really needs to know it. (Like, “I’ve collected all the Pokémon!”)
Things need to be included where they naturally fit.
When someone tries to artificially insert stuff into their essays (ESPECIALLY for Harvard or Stanford) when it does not naturally belong as part of the question being addressed, then the whole thing falls apart quickly. Frequently, a BSers profile as a whole may show a little evidence of this when compared to the broader candidate pool, but when we see the essays, we don’t get any of that come through in the execution of the pitch. Especially not when it’s an essay for Harvard.
To be clear: Most people just don’t have that level of differentiation in their backgrounds, so when we give feedback on such an essay that it’s not enough, we’re not saying “you suck, your profile is weak and boring” -– we’re saying that Stanford is looking for zebras, and you seem to be a standard horse.
(Note: You do not need to be a unicorn to get into Stanford. Honest!)
Want to know how you can develop yourself into the type of person that Stanford wants?
Don’t wait to do impactful work
Paraphrase: “I meet a lot of people doing really impactful things and I wonder, what’s different about them and everyone else? They’re smart and hardworking, but the world is full of smart and hardworking people. So what is it? It’s that they went and did it. It’s not enough to be smart and hardworking. You have to go do it.”
Or here. Check out this word cloud published by the GMAC folks as part of a report on trends in graduate school admissions a few years back. They did a survey of admissions folks at graduate programs all over the world on what they valued in their applicants. Do any of these words resonate?
Pick a few words from that chart, 4 or 5 or maybe 6. Think about them. Investigate them. Dwell on them. Obsess about them. How can you show them through vivid examples of you in action, creating results, demonstrating your values, (dare we say it) making a difference?
Those examples shall form the basic map of your app strategy.
Those examples are where differentiation lives.
And we’ll just leave you with this:
Are you living your life that way now?
It’s never too late to begin.