• Alison Merzel

A portfolio, not an autobiography

The goal of the college application is to present a portfolio of your experiences, rather than an autobiography that shares all of the sordid details of the past 18 years of your life.


College and universities are trying to assess the following:

  • Will the student be academically successful at their school?

  • Is the student likely to to add value to the campus community?

  • How will the student fit in with the campus culture?

  • How will this student help the institution advance its mission or vision?

  • Does the school offer what the student needs? In other words, is it a good match for what the student says they are looking for? Will the student be happy here?

  • In the case of students with special talents or abilities, they are looking to see how they might complement the team or ensemble, or meet a need for an open position.

It is important to carefully consider which personal attributes and life experiences are relevant to share with the admissions office to help them make these decisions. Think about the characteristics that define you; the things in your life that you can't live without; the watershed moments that have made you realize your true passions or convictions; the activities that you could do for hours without realizing how much time has gone by.


Once you have identified these things, consider where they belong in the application. If you can share everything you want or need to about your athletic participation in the Common Application activities section, maybe it doesn't need to be mentioned in an essay. If you had a surprising outcome during a competition or unexpected feedback from a school project, maybe that information is part of a story you communicate in an essay. If something significant happened that sheds light on some academic struggles, address that in the "additional information" section. Think about what you want to share and where that information belongs in the application process.


Not every school offers an interview, and even those that do can't guarantee them for all applicants. Your high school transcripts and test scores tell an academic story, but don't paint the whole picture. It is your job to fill in the gaps and help the college/university get a sense of who you are through the rest of the application. They don't need to know your whole life story - only selected elements from the chapters of your life that most define you.


Who am I?

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