Pan Flute Simplicity
The poet bard Avril Lavigne was whining a tune about being complicated as I turned in the rental car this morning. It is rare that I 1) make a habit of tuning in stations that would play Avril’s songs and 2) think much about said songs when I do. It was that 5 minute gap between disconnecting the mp3 player and ditching the rented Prius. I’m sitting there waiting for the attendant to check my mileage and thinking about a curious series of questions I fielded this past week:
- “I’m not sure what I want to major in, will that hurt me in the admissions process?” (answer = no)
- “I could ask my company to defer some of my compensation, should I do that to better my chances of obtaining financial aid?” (answer = no, what will you do, defer it for four years?)
- “I’m a sophomore, and my family’s worried that they can’t afford to send me abroad this summer, but I heard that colleges really like that, what should I do?” (answer = have a great experience doing something else you’ll enjoy and let colleges sort it out)
It’s true, Vanderbilt’s applications have grown (+73% in five years). A natural reaction is to try and find some way to stand out in the crowd. But for us, at the heart of the holistic review is an understanding of you – your past accomplishments, what you care about, and what drives your curiosities. In each of these things – simplicity is a supreme virtue. Consider the following example:
Ask yourself the question “Do I need a pan flute?” Use the following chart to answer the question.
Print this and put it above the space you use to work on your applications. The flow chart is good – the flow chart is wise – the flow chart is simple.
Simplicity in your extracurriculars: spell it out
- No acronyms – OK, we think we know what the BFF club is, but go ahead and humor us.
- The reason we like the Common App’s extracurricular section is because it limits you to a certain number of activities. Listing your most influential activities there is expected (again, simple I know, but you’d be surprised how many times we learn about that officer position at Girl’s State from the guidance counselor, not from the student).
- A resume is fine, but not expected. You can include one if you would like to list more activities than the Common App will allow.
Simplicity in you essay: get to the point
- True, there is no desired length, but please, no long walks in the desert.
- Your essay doesn’t have to be a novel topic, or oddly formatted to stick out. Some of the best essays I’ve read have been about the family pet, or a favorite room in the house, but they were expertly written.
Simplicity in your letters of recommendation: no surprises
- Don’t default to the teachers in whose classes you received the best grade. Instead, pick the teachers who know your work ethic and your classroom personality the best.
- Make sure you feel reasonably sure what your recommenders will write about you. I always scratch my head when I read luke warm recommendations. “How did the student misjudge that one?” I ask.