When working on college applications, it is very easy to be focused on everything you’ve done. It’s very easy to be focused on making sure you have accomplished as much as you could have, that you have been completely involved in your extracurriculars, or simply that you have done all that you could have done in the past four years of high school.
But when I recently sat down for breakfast with Dean Rakesh Khurana, the Dean of Harvard College, he provided a different perspective.
College applications aren’t about all you’ve done; they’re about all you can do in the future, he said.
And he makes an excellent point. Colleges don’t want someone who has already achieved the best version of themselves. They don’t want someone who has accomplished everything and is content with settling for their current accomplishments. They want someone who is going to continue to build upon these achievements during the next four years of college. They want someone with an unquenchable desire for more.
Dean Khurana said this is something the Harvard College admissions committees really focus on, and it is likely something colleges across the nation are looking for. They’re looking for students who will make the most of the resources provided in college, otherwise there is not as much value in admitting a student.
Whatever college you may be dreaming of attending, you’re competing against thousands of students across the world–and it’s easy to become a test score or a list of accomplishments. But no matter how impressive these figures and lists may be, it’s important for you to set yourself apart–something that is becoming increasingly different. But depicting your potential and what you are capable of doing in the future, whether directly or indirectly, is indeed something that will help you stand out.
The question becomes this: how exactly do you depict this potential?
It’s a good question, and there is no specific answer. It’s easy to depict all that you’ve already done; that can be done easily in a tangible list of extracurriculars on a Common App, by sending in test scores, or through the praise of teachers in letters of recommendation. But depicting your future potential–something intangible, something impossible to predict fully–is much more difficult. And there is no “one” way to do this.
For the most part, depicting your potential isn’t something you can force. It’s something that will develop throughout your application without really thinking about it. But it’s a good idea to keep in mind that colleges are looking for this.
One way of indirectly portraying your potential is through essays. (Please note that you shouldn’t directly write about your potential. It goes with the “show, don’t tell” rule.)
“For the Common App essay, I wrote about how I felt too comfortable in [my home country] Guam and how I wanted to go to a new world to follow my passion and do new things. I don’t know what I want to do yet, but I want to do something big,” said Shana Yang, a freshman at Harvard. “For the [supplemental] essay, I wrote about a political issue in Guam that I was really passionate about. Writing about political issues I’m really interested in [conveyed] an idea of what I want to do in the future.”
Another way is simply through conveying a strong sense of passion, showing colleges that you aren’t doing things simply for the sake of a college application but rather because of your genuine interest in them.
“If you inadvertently or directly show that you’re really passionate about certain things, then it’s easier for admission officers to see how you’re going to either continue those things or fuel those passions toward other things during your time in college,” said Rachel Talamo, a freshman at Harvard.
It’s true that each college may be looking for something different in each of their applicants. But showing potential is something nearly every college looks for, right up there with your test scores or accomplishments or letters of recommendation. Yet it’s also something not many people really think about when crafting their common application. In some ways, it’s comforting to know that your college application isn’t just a harsh judgement about all you’ve already accomplished; rather, it’s about what your aspirations are going to lead you to in the next four years of your life.