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  • Writer's pictureSusan Treadwell

Applying To College: Do You Know Your Backstory?

Updated: Apr 26, 2023


As college application season winds down for this year’s high school seniors, I’ve been thinking about the students and families I am grateful to know.

Working with diverse students from around the country, thanks to Zoom, I tuned in to a vast range of experiences and perspectives. What role will this year’s class of applicants play in designing a future that reflects their priorities? I can’t wait to find out.

The college process is complex. In addition to college prep basics (program and major research, targeted college lists, letters of recommendation, resumes, testing, interviews, essays), conversation is key. We've got to address that flashing-electronic-billboard question pulsing in every teenage mind: Who are you and where do you want to go? Ahhh! So much to consider.

Everyone has a backstory – experiences from their past that provide context for who they are today. As a student of drama, I enjoy the details of character development. Who are you and where do you want to go? You’re speaking my language!

Think about what you love doing, and how you spend your time. Your challenges and how you envision your future. Whether choosing colleges or exploring a career path, the goal is to think deeply. Details, it’s all about the details.

My advice for rising juniors gearing up now is to go beyond generalities in every aspect of this process. Peel the layers and get to the core of what animates you. Specificity is your friend.

What are you excited to learn? Reflect on your high school years. Notice which subjects inspired you to go above-and-beyond the requirements of a class.

If you have potential majors in mind, then start by researching individual colleges to discover the nuances of their programming.

Want to help people when you graduate? So many students tell me that’s their ultimate purpose. Maybe there’s a combination of psychology and education that resonates with your mission. Humanities and engineering. Entrepreneurship and innovation. The possibilities are limitless.

If you're passionate about solving big problems, hone in on your unique interests and see where they lead. Maybe you’re all about data analysis and machine learning. Or economics. Or maybe the arts are foundational to your education. Look for thematic strands that connect to each other, and to you.

The elements of your backstory can lead to insights, perspectives and goals for the future. See what happens when you anchor your self-discovery with words. Phrases. Paragraphs of thoughtful musings and revelations. Translation: Write it all down.

Trust your experiences and the way you think, see, feel, imagine, create. If you do that, then the way you express yourself will connect to your authenticity. And now that ChatGPT is a force to be reckoned with, it's crucial to pay special attention to your humanity!

On a practical level, all of these details are essential to your biography. And when it’s time to write essays, or interview with colleges, or apply for work and academic opportunities, you’ll feel confident sharing your story – because you’ll know your story.

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