Be yourself fearlessly.

Taylor Swift albums have always come out in fall, right around the time of most college admissions deadlines. You may wonder what the two have in common, but I think Taylor would make a great applicant if she ever decided to go back and get a college degree. The impressive thing to me about Taylor Swift is how comfortable she is with her identity. I’ve been a Taylor fan since my high school days listening to Our Song, and as some fans dropped away as she strayed from her country roots, I stuck with her.  It feels like for every big moment in my life there has been an appropriate Taylor Swift song, and her evolution has in some ways been parallel to mine as I’ve changed and grown. The release of this new album got me thinking about all we’ve been through together, and reminded me of what applicants go through preparing their application – who am I, what parts of my identity are most important to me, what do I want out of the next four years of my life, where do I want to be, who do I want to be with, how will I challenge myself, what do I want to learn, and most importantly, whom do I want to become?

It may not seem like it when writing your 15th supplement essay, but the college application is an amazing process. There are few times in life when you are asked to define yourself, your community, your world. But when these opportunities arise: be yourself, fearlessly. When students are authentic, the words are genuine, the stories, emotions, voice – all real, that shines through on an application. It’s a daunting task at any point in life, but in particular, high school is a tough time to be the fullest version of yourself. The very nature of the college application – asking students to make themselves stand out – goes against everything society is telling you on how to fit in during high school. But it is only by knowing ourselves -whether that is our personal identity, our institution’s identity or our community’s identity – that we can begin to understand, find commonalities with, and inspire others.

My advice is this: ask big questions of yourself and of the institutions to which you are applying.  What are their institutional values? How do they strive to educate their students? What makes them different in the world of higher education? If you aren’t satisfied with their answers, or if they can’t give answers, it may not be the right fit for you. It is not always easy to stand apart; but as an institution and an applicant, you have to commit yourself to your identity proudly and without compromise. And as Taylor says, haters gonna hate hate hate…

So as an applicant, make the most of this opportunity for self-examination. Think of it as a blank CD, with a track for your high school transcript, a track for your essays, a track for your letter of recommendation etc. At the end of the process, make an album that you’re proud of – one that captures your identity and one that has intrinsic value to you outside of the approval or disapproval from those reviewing it. Taylor can tell you, fans come and go, and you may not be accepted to every institution; but if you develop an application, a voice, and an identity that is bursting with color, texture and life – you can then go confidently in whatever direction the college process takes you.

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