I think nearly all of the advice on how to get into college can be summed up with one commandment: be interesting. The clubs, the sports, the instruments–it all boils down to making yourself stand out. Quite simply, colleges want interesting people. And luckily for everyone applying to college, being interesting is something you actually have some control over.
Now to be clear: being considered interesting is not a get-into-college-free card. And admittedly, being interesting is somewhat a matter of perspective–a random kid from Spain would seem much more interesting to you than a random kid from your own school. But that being said, there are still ways you can differentiate yourself from the people in your own school–and everyone else trying to get into your dream college as well.
The big secret to being interesting
Drumroll, please…the big secret to being interesting is learning.
Yes, learning. No one is inherently interesting. What sets people apart from one another are their experiences–where they’ve been, what they know, how they think. Experience leads to knowledge. Therefore, gaining more knowledge (i.e. learning) will make you more interesting.
The question, then, becomes what (and how) to learn.
Attempt a new skill (horrible failure optional, but not necessary)
In middle school, I went to go see a circus show. A number of the performers were actually pretty young, and I remember thinking it was so cool that they could juggle. I was busy stewing in jealousy and regretting that my parents never sent me to clown school when a thought popped into my head: I could just go ahead and teach myself how to juggle.
We live in the wonderful age of the Internet, which means we can look just about anything up on a whim. A quick Google search led me to a website that taught me how to juggle. Several hours of practice later, I actually got the hang of it.
With the Internet, you can teach yourself nearly anything. Check out what Google has to say. Look up tutorials on YouTube. Search for cheap equipment on Craigslist. Here are some ideas for things to learn, just to get you started.
Sure, you might end up failing miserably. But even then, you’ll have a story to tell. You’re no longer a person who has never picked up a guitar, for example–you’re now a person who has picked up a guitar, tried to learn to play it, and realized her fingers just weren’t built to play an F-chord.
(I’m kidding, of course–keep practicing and you’ll nail it.)
Be smart about your media
As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. If you spend your time watching/reading/listening to interesting things, you’ll be more interesting as well.
Follow a few major news outlets on social media–maybe The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, or Al Jazeera. That way, you’ll have articles posted right to your newsfeed. Some of the articles will be boring and/or dense, but try to read one or two of them anyway. You don’t need to know every single thing going on–the idea is just to give yourself a new perspective.
If you’re struggling to find time to read the news, consider lining up some podcasts to listen to at some point during your day. Any of the top podcasts on iTunes are probably safe bet, but I’m especially partial to Freakonomics Radio and This American Life. These podcasts do a great job of examining various issues from a number of angles–which might help you think the same way as well.
Finally, if YouTube is more your thing, consider checking out some new channels. If you don’t watch them already, channels like CGP Grey, SciShow, CrashCourse, and MinutePhysics do a great job of explaining geography, science, history, and physics (and more!) in really entertaining and accessible ways. ViHart draws (literally) links among art, music, and math to reveal the secrets of the universe. PBS Idea Channel (my current favorite) combines all sorts of seemingly disparate ideas into a hyperkinetic pseudo-academic pop culture smoothie, and Mental Floss is your home for all sorts of useless information and the answers to questions you never knew you had.
Ideally, all these media can help you think in new ways. At the very least, they’ll give you something interesting to talk about.
Weave your story
No matter how many new skills and thoughts you have bouncing around your head, they don’t do any good if you’re not able to share them. I maintain that being interesting is a fun way to go through life, but if you’re in the business of being interesting solely to impress an admissions officer, this is going to be the most important step for you.
Ultimately, no one cares about facts so much as they care about stories. You know your story best–and when you apply to college, you have the chance to tell it. Half of being interesting is actually being interesting; the other half is just showing it to others.
Take a minute to reflect on your own passions, your own skills, your own knowledge. The most interesting stories focus on some sort of conflict and some sort of growth. What first gave you this passion? What were some of the obstacles in honing this skill? What did you learn along the way? (And why is any of it important?)
Maybe you like how your art is a release from the structure of your everyday life. Maybe you appreciate the intense focus that being on the court gives you. Maybe you are fulfilled by recognizing others’ dignity. Any of those thoughts are much more interesting than simply saying that you like pottery, basketball, or community service.
You have the internet at your fingertips. You have the summer ahead of you. You have the power to make yourself a more interesting person and generally better your life–and maybe also improve your college chances along the way.