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Mosaics (Part Two)

Every picture tells a story, don’t it? (with apologies to Rod Stewart) 

November 2, 2014

Last week I wrote about advice I give to students applying to college or graduate school. My advice to students is simple, but risky: Be yourself, let your true colors fly, and tell the story that only you can tell.  If students try to package themselves to be what they believe a school is looking for, they will sound like at least one thousand other applicants and there will be no reason for an admissions officer to pull them out of the pile for the ‘admit’ list. 

The same is true for how a school can stand out in a noisy, crowded marketplace.  As I mentioned last week, I have always looked at a student’s application as a mosaic and we cannot know what the image is until we see all of the tiles.  Every aspect of a candidate’s application represents a tile, including GPA, schools attended, courses taken, work experience, community service, test scores, languages spoken, life experience, and their essays.  The same process is true for how students get an image of a school. 

Students looking for a school that fits them generally look at a variety of factors – or, to use the mosaic analogy, tiles – to complete their image of a school.  The school’s location is one tile and big-league sports teams (or lack thereof) may be another tile.  Popular clubs and pastimes are tiles.  Well-known faculty may be another tile.  Any aspect that helps a prospective student see themselves (or not see themselves) at that school is an important tile.

Don’t cover things up – show the school as it really is, highlighting what makes the school different from other schools – think about the school’s history, it’s academic focus, its size, the students it serves best, the community on campus, career opportunities, and any other aspects that makes the school different. Do you tend to serve students with stellar academic preparation, first-generation college attendees, degree-completers, students from certain backgrounds, students that typically need remediation?  What were watershed decisions and events at the school? What are the most popular classes and majors?  Is the culture among students competitive or cooperative? Are you a conservative school?  A liberal school?  Is the student population homogeneous or heterogeneous?  Does the school have a lively Greek system or are fraternities and sororities not present on campus?  All tiles.

Just as it’s risky for a student to write about what matters to them and what makes them who they are during the admissions process (and probably riskier, in the long run, not to do so), there is a risk a school takes in portraying themselves as they truly are.  It might turn some students off.  But that’s a risk worth taking.  Just as a school’s mosaic will repel some students, it will attract others – those that truly belong and will benefit from what the school has to offer. 


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