As I stared at the blinking cursor on my empty word document, I could feel the Red Bull making its way to my fingertips. The early decision deadline for Brown was just an hour and a half away, and I had… nothing.
It’s not like I purposefully left this life-changing task until the last minute. I started planning how I was going to get into Brown during my campus visit a year ago. I meant to finish the essay weeks before. Months before. But every time I sat down at the computer… nothing.
I didn’t have the slightest clue what to write for my college essay. What was the admissions committee even looking for? Who were they? How was I going to get their attention? What was going to make them care about me? Who did they want me to be?
I tapped my fingernails frantically on the keyboard. Well at this point, there’s really no time to over-think this. But maybe, I thought, that was the problem. I had spent the last 4 months over-thinking this, wondering what other applicants were writing, and trying to figure out what they wanted to hear and how to get it all into one essay. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to write. It was that I had too much. How was I supposed to show them that I was a well-rounded, smart, athletic, philanthropic, multi-cultural applicant with a secret talent for pop-culture trivia on a single page?
I took a breath. They weren’t the ones playing mind games; I was doing it to myself. I was trying to do too much. I was trying to be too many people so that I could be everything that I thought they wanted, when really I need to just focus on my best qualities. It suddenly seemed so obvious to me—my most powerful voice was going to be my own. I mean, duh.
So I finally started to write. I focused on the one thing that defined me whether I liked it or not: my heritage. My parents brought me up as the paragon of an Asian stereotype, and I was immensely uncomfortable with how it boxed me in. Living in that box was something I faced everyday, so writing about it just seemed natural.
About a month later, I found out I got in.
Now, I do not recommend going down the Red Bull road. I was very, very lucky that it all worked out.
That said, I think that because I didn’t have time to overdo, I was able to create a genuine picture of who I was. One of the biggest mistakes that applicants make is overcompensating. The most important thing to remember here is this: it’s much easier to stand out with one extraordinary thing than a hundred vaguely-sort-of impressive things.
By Tiffany Chen, Admissionado Senior Consultant