College admissions officers are looking to build successful cohorts; a class of varied backgrounds and knowledge bases is key to building a diverse and dynamic student body that will go on to make their alma mater proud. Figuring out how to connect your academics, extracurriculars, and interests -- while painting a true picture of who you are -- is a challenge everyone experiences as part of the college application process.
The key is telling a cohesive story across the application via the college essay and supplements, your transcript, and your resume (clubs, volunteer activities, extracurriculars, and summer plans). And that’s where ‘threading a theme’ comes in. We all have many interests and our days are full of things we both like and dislike doing. But what do you truly “nerd out" about? Find that passion and carry it through to all parts of the application. Why?
For one, passion exploration will help you grow as a person, build deep personal and professional connections, and find joy through learning. But it’s also a sure-fire way for the college admissions officers who look at thousands of applications every year to really discover who you are, what you’d bring to the table, and how that college can help develop your passions further. And if you truly can stay up all night doing this one thing (or several things), your enthusiasm will come through in your treatment of the “theme” in your fantastic college application!
We asked our college admissions experts for examples!
“One student I had did very well academically and wanted to apply to very competitive business programs. Searching for threads in his interests, the student noted he particularly wanted to go into impact investing, which is a way to invest in innovative products and markets to create a big impact socially. The student and I realized his ‘nerd out’ was researching companies that intersected business and social justice. He continued to research more on the subject and was able to put it into practice when he was accepted in a business-focused summer program offered at Georgetown on social entrepreneurship. For his final project in the course, he designed a model for a restaurant that was socially impactful. He knew a little about restaurants from working at a Panda Express making rice bowls and leveraged that in his project. For his personal essay, he discussed his passion, the model he created, the summer program, his part-time job, and his future endeavors. Admissions officers loved his story and he was incredibly successful in the application process.”
-Justin, College Admissions Coach
“I once worked with a student who had a severe food allergy, and his theme was living with this life-threatening condition. Throughout his college search, he was really looking to attend a university that was especially cautious about food allergies. With enormous humor, he wrote his college essay about his experience gaining confidence at and thriving in school despite having an atypical experience. The main subject of his college essay, though, was his close relationship with school nurses, with whom he ate lunch every day. He landed at Colorado College, who could ensure that he would be safe and has done incredibly well there.”
-Michelle, College Admissions Coach
“Another student applied ED to the Math Education department of Boston University. At IVY’s College Essay Bootcamp, I learned she had a strong interest in social justice and played the role of the leader and organizer in her high school. We looked at how that strong passion dovetailed with her love of math and teaching. She began to do some important volunteer work, making challenging math ideas fun and accessible to under-resourced students who weren’t previously encouraged in math. Her main essay highlighted the origin story of her passion for social justice. It all started with snowball fights on snow days in elementary school. While throwing snowballs, the kids would swap stories about racist interactions with teachers and police. This laid the groundwork for her current activism. Her supplements and resume highlighted tutoring work with middle and elementary school students in her neighborhood, echoing her strong passion for lifting up her fellow minorities. Needless to say, she was admitted early-decision to the program of her choice and couldn’t have been happier.”
-Justin, College Admissions Coach
Narrowing it down
While college applications can be tedious to fill out, linking what you think you want to study in college to specific actions you’re taking now to explore your passions is a great way to simplify the process. In other words: narrow your focus. When I was in the application process, I went about my essay process differently: I listed all the things I felt would wow admissions and tried to fit them all into my personal statement for credibility. But when it came down to fine-tuning my application a week or so before the early decision deadline, my essay and supplements were covered in red remarks from my guidance counselors and teachers. Years later, I realize they were helping me ‘thread a theme' by editing down my too-many-lofty- achievement flexes down to a narrative that showed an arc, my interests, and my personality to better give admissions an admissions officer an idea of who I was. Essay supplements became the places to discuss other skills that didn’t make it into my college essay.
If you are also feeling like I did (too many college essay ideas) or you can’t think of a topic, you may want to consider Justin’s College Essay Bootcamp. We guarantee you’ll finish the week with a college essay that’ll WOW admissions!