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Tiffany’s College Essay Breakthrough: One Extraordinary Thing

September 17, 2013 :: Admissionado Team

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