While Tim was a stellar academic performer at a reputable boarding school, he was also incredibly subdued. This was because at the deepest level, Tim had a low self-image and was constantly second guessing himself.
For example, when he received a high but not perfect mark on a test, he would agonize over what he could have done differently to improve his score. He was constantly evaluating and comparing himself to others, often reaching the conclusion that he was unworthy. Worst of all, his subdued personality was reflected in his writing, which was dry and oftentimes negative in tone.
I began work with Tim towards the end of his sophomore year, and I quickly recognized that beneath his subdued exterior, there was a passionate and incredibly intelligent guy. The trick was to bring these qualities to the surface. The first approach was to encourage him to be more active outside of the classroom, finding activities that he could be passionate about in order to generate genuine enthusiasm. The second approach was to work with Tim on his writing, helping him express himself on the page in an engaging way, since in reality he was far from boring.
The Admissionado Approach
Since I had over a year to mentor Tim before beginning his applications, I tried both approaches simultaneously, explaining to him the importance of both extracurricular achievements and writing prowess. There was moderate success with the former and tremendous success with the latter. In terms of extracurricular activities, Tim was at first immovable. He had three basic activities with low time commitments, and he insisted that he did not want to take on any more than that. I convinced him to increase his participation as an after-school tutor for underprivileged children, which turned out to be his most rewarding activity. He ultimately wrote a powerful essay detailing his rocky yet redeeming relationship with one particularly challenging student. As for essay writing, Tim was frustrated at first, giving up easily when his early drafts were not masterpieces. I encouraged him to be patient, and we worked together towards the goal of essays that were personal, emotionally rich, and detailed in narrative. By the time Tim began official application work, his writing was effortless, and he was able to craft deeply resonant essays with very little coaching.
Tim was accepted to three of his top choices: Northwestern, UC Berkeley, and UCLA. Even though he was offered a spot at the prestigious College of Engineering within UC Berkeley, he ultimately chose Northwestern for its overall strong engineering department, liberal arts curriculum, and reputation for a vibrant (and fun!) campus.
The only thing standing in Tim’s way was Tim. Once he stopped worrying and started believing in himself, his trajectory rocketed skyward, and now he’s lucky to call Northwestern home. Send me a pic when you paint The Rock, Tim!