Testing, activities get short shrift without application

August 10, 2004|by Becky Jefferies

In the system of higher education, students have one shot to accentuate themselves among the thousands of other students competing for a spot in a particular college, one chance to accurately communicate exactly who they are and what they can bring to the table. The only way to transmit this information is by filling out a meticulous application.

Colleges want to know everything from parents' education to what integrity means to applicants. The endless list of questions may seem like a burden, but it actually is a marvelous declaration of bragging rights, a blank slate that students may embellish with their honors, awards, athletic successes, academic achievements, community service and extracurricular involvement.

Before elaborating on their attributes, applicants must complete basic sections of detailed questions regarding their family, social and educational backgrounds. Personal data is the first segment of the Common Application, which is the recommended form of 255 selective colleges and universities for admission to their undergraduate programs, according to the Web site at


The test information portion solicits aptitude test scores, then the family section asks about siblings and parents' education and occupations. These four fields require little effort and time because the questions are plainly factual and routine.

The next section asks applicants to list eight extracurricular, personal and volunteer activities in the order of their interest. To simplify this, applicants might prepare a rsum that includes every sport, activity, job, honor and award pertinent to each year, beginning with freshman. Doing so will prevent applicants from excluding any accomplishments while helping to classify which activities were the most prominent. Lists of academic honors and work experience are solicited in additional sections. If the space provided is insufficient, applicants may include the thorough rsum along with the application to ensure that every activity and accomplishment, no matter how minuscule, is recognized.

Areas that require the most time and concentration are the short answer and personal statement sections, through which applicants can convey their personalities and demonstrate writing abilities. In the 2004-05 Common Application, the short answer question asks students to "describe which of (their) activities (extracurricular and personal activities or work experience) has been most meaningful and why." Short answers should be about one paragraph long and proper in form.

The personal statement is a 250-word to 500-word essay that, according to the Common Application, will help schools to know the applicant. The personal statement section poses six question topics, including the breath-a-sigh-of-relief topic of your choice. From those six, applicants must choose the one they feel most strongly about, one that will allow them to genuinely express themselves; then, they must do so. A name, address and birthday won't define someone, but an exposition of personality, attitude and belief will.

Admission committees won't know applicants from Joe Schmo, so it's the duty of the applicant to accurately define himself. Whether it be exceptional test scores or expertise in calculus, dexterity on the field or genius in music, there is something unique about every applicant, and colleges want to know the distinctiveness each applicant can bring to campus. Since few colleges and universities accept 100 percent of applicants, a clean, strong application could easily mean the difference between rejection and that highly coveted acceptance letter.

Becky Jefferies is a 2004 graduate of Boonsboro High School and will be attending the University of Maryland this fall. She is an intern at The Herald-Mail. For a couple of weeks, she will share her experiences on preparing for her first year in college.

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