Despite having excellent test scores and solid grades at a world-renowned boarding school, Clarice’s extracurricular participation was weak, or at least it looked that way on paper.
Her involvement in school-related clubs, which were abundant and wonderful at her school, was especially low. She was a member of the Flute Choir for a year before quitting, and then she joined the JV archery team, but never really competed. Needless to say, there were no leadership roles or standout experiences in any of these activities. Clarice did have a few homespun activities, such as a personal blog on contemporary Chinese music.
Clarice came to us right before her senior year, so there was no time to advise her to increase extracurricular participation. In addition, it was clear from the start that she was an excellent writer, though she spent too much time obsessing over single drafts and couldn’t self-edit. The first possible approach was to forego mention of activities (or lack thereof) in favor of crafting essays that showed her creative brilliance and originality. The second approach was to dig deeper into her interests to discover exactly how she was spending time outside of school and have her write about that.
The Admissionado Approach
I ultimately went with the second approach. After speaking extensively with Clarice, a common thread emerged in her life outside of school: a strong interest in modern China. Her parents had emigrated from China in search of a better life, first to the US, then to Canada. Clarice had a formative experience when she was younger, which became a pivotal point in her personal statement.
She was reading a book on Chinese history when her mom commented that she would never truly understand that history because she was not native to China. This sparked a quest by Clarice to uncover the history of her parents and their home country, leading to a semester abroad in Beijing.
While there, she grew fond of modern Chinese music, especially the emerging underground rock movement. She began to blog about it, and while her website was virtually unknown in North America, it had a sizable following in China. In college, Clarice wanted to major in East Asian Studies in order to grasp not just the China of her parents, but the China of today and tomorrow, as well. Thus, we made sure her essays explained her aspirations, making a strong connection between her past experience and future goals.
Clarice was accepted to most of her top choices: UVA, Northwestern, Wesleyan, Georgetown, and Oberlin, where she was offered scholarship money. She ultimately chose Northwestern based not only on the strength of their Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, but also because of their overall strong academic program and reputation for engendering a vibrant and connected campus community.
While seemingly shy, Clarice is one of the most intellectually unique and academically outgoing students I’ve ever met. I actually learned a lot from her… Who would have thought I’d emerge with a love of foot-stompingly awesome Chinese rock?