The Search Episode Seven Transcript

The Search

Episode Seven Transcript

 

Lee Coffin:
From Dartmouth College, this is Lee Coffin, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid. Welcome to The Search. Last episode we talked about what counts considering data. Your transcript, your testing, the way recommendations inform our understanding of your academic preparation. And very importantly, your ability to do the work.

This episode takes that same question, what counts, and spins it towards a more qualitative topic. It's going to examine the way you introduce yourself, the way you share your voice, the way you frame a narrative for us to meet you as not just an applicant but as a member of the community we're building.

This conversation about the introduction, about how you take the person who you are and distill it down to its relative parts through the application, is something that should be intentional. You should be thinking about how do I see myself, how does each section of the application give me a chance to highlight, amplify, expand, reframe the parts of myself that feel relevant to the way a college community will welcome me and see mas a part of it.

To have this conversation today, I've invited a longtime colleague and friend to bring two perspectives to this topic. Meredith Reynolds is currently the associate director of college guidance at the Roxbury Latin School in Boston. Trivia point. RL as it is known, is the oldest independent school in America. Which dates back to the early 1600s.

It's a really remarkable history as an institution, that produces some really powerful boys. This is an all-boys school. But beyond her work at RL, Meredith and I were colleagues at Tufts for many years. Where during my last years there, Merry was one of the associate directors who managed our communications work and was also someone who had that particularly keen ear and eye for voice.

Both as someone who could read a file and distill it, as somebody who can tell the story of the institution with great wit, and as someone who is now counseling young men, in her example, through this process. So, she seemed like the perfect cohost for me today.

Mary, welcome.

Meredith Reynolds:
Thank you, Lee. It's great to be here. What a nice introduction that was.

Lee:
Yeah, I try. As you think about voice, what does it mean to you?

Meredith:
Well, I think voice, to me, is everything outside of what it sounds like you discussed in your last podcast episode of the data points. Which can mean the voice that we hear in the student's written application, so the common app essay and the supplemental essays.

It can mean the voice we sort of determine based on their list of extracurriculars. It means the voice that we hear from the student's teacher and counselor, just about what kind of community member they are. And I think it's the most important part of the whole application, because when you are an admission officer at...for example, when we worked together at Tufts and we were reviewing 21,000 applications, you get test scores and you get GPAs and that means a whole lot of nothing when they're all really stellar.

You have to get a sense of voice to make sure that you are crafting a community. You're putting together a community thoughtfully that is going to learn from each other, that is going to challenge each other. And also, that is going to be made up of people who are simply good roommates and good friends and good classmates.

I also think about voice in terms of the people that are going to be filling the classrooms of your institution. I always thought of our work in the admission office as serving the faculty first and foremost, of our college. Right?

Because we are filling their classrooms with people who are going to determine the discussion that happens there, that are going to ask the questions that are going to help with their research. So that, I think, comes from voice specifically also.

Lee:
Yeah. No, that's a really elegant summary of the topic. I think the other way I think of it is for a student listening to this, saying well break that down, I would break it down into this question. What adjectives do you want me to distill from your application as descriptors for you?

That's an exercise I think someone could to earlier than later in this college admission cycle, to say how do I hope someone comes to know me. For example, if you see yourself as a funky, sarcastic poet, then your application should help us meet that person. If you see yourself as an environmentalist who loves trees and wants to do policy initiatives to save rainforests, that should come through as your voice.

To take this conversation we're having about storytelling, narrative, voice, thought it would be a wonderful chance to turn the mic over to our friends on the student side and say how did you think about telling your story. So, our first student guest is Rashad Brown Mitchell, who is graduating or just graduated from Fenway High School in Boston.

He's been the captain of the squash team, he's been an engineering intern, he's on the alumni board of Quest Adventures, he's on the student council. He volunteers at the homeless shelter. So, he's got his fingerprints in a lot of different places.

Rashad, welcome to the podcast.

Rashad Brown Mitchell:
Thank you for having me. Good to be here.

Lee:
You're welcome. Let me start with a very open-ended question. As you were working on your common application a year ago, what did you want colleges to know about you? Beyond your transcript and your testing and all that.

When you thought about, I want to introduce Rashad to the colleges where I will apply, what was on your mind?

Rashad:
Probably exactly what you just said. Some good advice that one of my teachers or staff members gave me is tell a story that someone may not be able to tell from first look.

I think especially in the college process, it's overwhelming sometimes to think that your grades aren't good enough or your scores aren't good enough. I have that experience myself, and I said well, my grades can tell this story and may say oh he's smart, oh he's a hard worker, whatever the case may be. But throughout my time in high school I've become very much engaged with my community, especially Boston specifically.

So, doing that, I just wanted to show that different side of me because most people couldn't see because I was still building on it myself. That's really what I wanted to focus on, and not focus on yeah, I got the scores, yeah, I got the grades. Whatever I may have.

But I really wanted to focus on a side that most people don't know about me and I just realized about myself. Throughout the process, I threw in bits of my family in there and the history of Rashad, I would say. As I've just grown up, through childhood up to this college process. So yeah.

Lee:
That's a really lovely way to say it, the history of Rashad. Your application is an autobiography of sorts.

Rashad:
Yes.

Lee:
Your story through now, as presented in the application. I've never given that advice to students, but I think you've just given me new language to help people think about the storytelling that goes on in an application. Merry, does autobiography make sense to you?

Meredith:
Absolutely, yeah. I think what we're trying ... what admission officers are trying to learn, first and foremost, is who is the person that's going to show up on our campus in the fall. What do they bring with them, not just physically what they bring with them but the story that they bring? And how are they going to enrich our community? I think absolutely you need to know someone's autobiography to really understand them.

Lee:
Rashad, you answered a question on the supplement about what inspires you to act and how might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it. Do you want to tell us about what you were thinking when you answered that?

Rashad:
Yeah. I was really just engaged with the community and its different aspect than all the other colleges that I visited or was going to visit in the future. So that really drew me in.

The reason I wanted to focus on what I said in the supplement about mixing engineering and sociology is because those are two things that I'm very fond of. Not engineering, per se, but just using my hands and building and helping communities in a practical way.

Lee:
But you talked about a humanities course in high school. You said, "My humanities class exposed me to a litany of societal problems. Institutionalized racism, injustice toward immigrants, and gentrification."

And you went on to say, "As I analyze society in general, alongside its cultures, inhabitants, and institutions, I hope to identify the assortment of social justice issues which exist more, more in depth."

Which is really ... it's great. You're not thinking about humanities as your major, but you're pulling that part of your intellectual curiosity into the way you're introducing yourself as a potential engineer.

Rashad:
Yeah.

Lee:
Yeah. The third paragraph of your short essay, could you read us that?

Rashad:
Yes.

Lee:
Yeah.

Rashad:
I intend to be an engineering major and cannot deny my love for innovation. By optimizing this passion, I will fulfill practical and tangible solutions which can serve communities in need. Creating tools and providing sources for those who truly need it is my calling in life.

Lee:
That's great. That, to those of you listening to Rashad introduce himself, just in those three sentences it gives the reader a really clear window into the way he's thinking about college. Right now.

It doesn't mean two years from now, four years from now he hasn't shifted. But he's framing this engineering interest, coupling it with the A+ he got in calculus, just to toot his horn for him, and goes beyond that. It's not just I got an A+ in calculus. Here's how I might use it. Here's my passion.

What is it about calculus and engineer, Rashad, that tickles you?

Rashad:
I would say for math and science in general, in STEM, it's always just come easy to me. Throughout my entire childhood, math and science, just STEM in general, has always flowed. It was never very challenging for me and I liked that it was always one straightforward answer. It's either this or it's not. There's no room to process.

As I grew up in high school and really humbling myself and seeing all the different experiences and all the different perspectives, I was drawn more to the humanities. Because within the social sciences, there's always so much. There's a vast amount of answers and a vast amount of perspectives that you can receive as a student.

And of course, math and science has come easy for me. But I realized that it wasn't my passion. It was really just like a skill that I was good. So, using my passion of the humanities and immersing myself in knowledge where there is really no one complete answer, I wanted to intertwine that into something that I've been good at for a long time now.

Lee:
Yeah. Yeah. I was a word person more than a numbers person, but the answer you just gave about the clarity of math, it's either right or it's wrong, so many of the math people say that. It makes me smile.

Meredith, do you hear that a lot too?

Meredith:
Oh, absolutely. I mean you just said it, you lost me at A+ in calculus. Like what?

I also just have to say that I think it's so great that we are naturally having a conversation right now about Rashad's intellectual interests and himself in the classroom, and not every supplement lends itself to answers that get at that meat. Right?

Like you are...the Dartmouth supplement asks the question about the coursework that he's going to be doing and how that's going to help him fulfill his goals. Not every supplement asks the question about intellectual or academic passions, but I do think it's so important for students to write about those and try to find a space within supplements that they can get one essay in there about their intellectual passions.

Because you, Lee, make it easy by asking the question on your supplement. But not all supplements will. You can tell from this conversation with Rashad, that we're learning so much about him based on this. I just wanted to pause there.

Lee:
That's a 250 word...essay is not even the right word for it. It's like a long paragraph that was packed with really wonderful detail about you.

To Meredith's point about the Dartmouth supplement, every college, or most colleges on the common application, will have their own supplement. The questions are very institutionally specific and it's a wake towards what are we trying to get at in addition to what comes on the rest of the application.

You wrote such a beautiful application. Can you read the beginning of your personal essay for us?

Rashad:
Packages of green Heineken bottles populated the carpeted basement, like books in a library. [inaudible 00:15:15] yellow crayons, small and fragile frames, sluggish and clumsy movements, and a lingering scent of smoke characterized my uncles. Sounds of laughter, alongside obscenities, echoed off the creamy white walls.

As a child, the warmth I felt from my uncles' presence overwhelmed me with happiness and caused me to disregard the evidence of their dysfunctions. My uncles are just a few of the people in my family who had fallen victim to a street dictated lifestyle, leading to various addictions, mental health issues, and multiple incarcerations.

Ultimately, the immutable factors holding my family in bondage led to the loss of my family's home. The more my family disintegrated around me, the more I leaned heavily on the surrounding community, spending immeasurable hours volunteering at local shelters, parks, gardens, and many more locations. [inaudible 00:16:08] residence at Pine Street Inn, preparing food at the Greater Boston Food Bank and forming of the food project were not completely selfless endeavors, but a way for me to escape the brokenness of my home and find stability through my friends.

Lee:
So, you're writing about some really personal, powerful things. You go on to talk about Boston and the disparity between what the tourists and the businesspeople see and what other, less affluent, parts of the community see. And you connect it in your ... kind of as you wrap it up, you say, "It inspired me to take action and implement the change I envisioned for my city."

Could you share with us the second to last paragraph where you talk about advocacy?

Rashad:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). OK. Advocates do not have to be the people who enthrall the crowd with their charm. They can also be those who do the behind the scenes work. I realized my work, no matter what the magnitude is, has the potential to go a long way. Whether I'm buying a muffin for a homeless person or hearing them out while they tell their story.

As a child engulfed in a corrosive environment and nourished with aggressiveness and bad tendencies, the smallest acts of kindness performed by my uncles stood out more than any bad memory.

Lee:
It gives me chills again, as I hear you read it. Your voice reading your words is really powerful. It's why I invited you on the podcast, Rashad. You were ... this is brilliant.

I think a lot of students, when they're thinking about writing essays, worry about having some meaning of life topic. Or they go down this really prescribed path. And my advice, though, is just tell your story. Find the words to help us meet you.

Rashad:
And that's why I started off by talking about my family, like looking at the roots where I started and the things that nourished me. The things that brought me up as a child.

Like I mentioned earlier, community has become a huge thing for me because it's been there for me throughout my entire life. Whether it's a bad community, or what others would call a bad community, or just the community of Boston and all its beauty and all the things that it brings and the different cultures within it, I wanted to focus on that because it's a major part of me.

I'm very engaged with my community. I really want to help people and I really feel like that's my calling, is just to serve as many people as possible. And I try to show that through my history and through the process of how I came to this point.

Lee:
And you did that.

Rashad:
Yeah. Thank you.

Meredith:
Can I ask a question, Lee?

Lee:
Yeah.

Meredith:
Rashad, you are a beautiful writer.

Rashad:
Thank you.

Meredith:
I'm a college counselor at a high school in Boston, and I so often try to get my students to start with the self-reflection piece. I think it is so much easier for them to look at the question and then just think about an answer to the question.

Which is why I love that you chose the last question on the common app, which is just pick a topic of your choice. And then used it as a self-reflection exercise. I'm curious if you could break that down a little bit more. How did you go about doing that self-reflection? Was it just sort of time with a pen and paper and sitting by yourself? Did you have help thinking through these things? What did that look like for you?

Rashad:
Yeah, of course. When I first started, I think the real thing that catalyzed me to write like this and look at it as a self-reflection essay, was actually when I went to Dartmouth and one of the college admission counselors, they had this technique or just like this practice where we would write out a bunch of concepts or things down. Like community, religion, sex, race, stuff like that.

And then they would just say cross off. I think some people probably have done this in the past, but you would cross off, if it's 15 words on the paper you would cross off five, and then four. Whatever the case may be. And really coming down to that, I realized doing that exercise that I was really drawn to community.

In my junior year, right before I wrote this, I just had gone to my first service trip. People always say when you go on a service trip it opens your eyes to the bigger world, and then you want to change the world and all this other stuff.

At first, because people told me not to write about that because they're like no, that's generic, that's not real. Everyone writes like that. But that was my story. So, I had to find a different way to write that because I knew that it still meant a lot to me.

And I realized that change is a big thing for me. So, reflecting on that and reflecting on my true values, even though people may say that doesn't sound good, no this doesn't sound good, I think that's what's really important. Just finding that authenticity about your experience, about your values.

And not look at it like I'm trying to sell myself to you, but just saying this is who I am. This is my process and it's not how I'm going to be in the end, but this is so ... this is where I'm at in the moment, and I'm progressing, going into college, going through high school. And I have more to go.

I think that helps. Anyway, yeah.

Meredith:
That was admissions essay gold. Gold.

Lee:
It is gold. I am so happy you joined us on the podcast, Rashad. I know you're a busy guy as you start your summer job. But thanks, so much for sharing your wisdom, because it really is wisdom. I mean you are helping juniors around the world think about their own stories. So, thanks.

Rashad:
Of course.

Lee:
OK.

Rashad:
Thank you.

Lee:
Thank you, Rashad.

Meredith:
Thank you.

Lee:
Applications invite your voice through the supplement to the common app or to the coalition app, as well as through the personal statements that people write. So, let's focus on the supplement.

The supplements are sometimes an overlooked part of the storytelling opportunity. They're usually a couple of questions, shorter rather than longer. The onus of the personal statement is in 500 words or less, tell your story. The onus of the supplement is in 250 words or less, in 100 words or less.

These pieces of the application are less essay writing and more short statements from you, to make an additional narrative impact on your file. And so, to think about this with us is Maya Newell, who is just finishing up her senior year at Belmont High School in Massachusetts.

Just as an interesting trivia point, Meredith, our cohost today, is a graduate of Belmont High School. So, Meredith and Maya shared the same hallways as high school students, which they just discovered. We might've had a few giggles about that.

But Maya applied this year to Dartmouth and is joining us in September. And introduced herself as a student thinking about Middle East and Asian studies, cognitive science. She was the bold student who also said undecided as one of her academic interests, which is awesome when that happens.

She is a pianist. She is a Japanese sword fighter, which is not something you see every day. She is an organizer of the National Period Day rally in Boston and has been a founding president of a menstrual activism organization at her high school.

She is someone that really embodied a powerful voice as she introduced herself. So Maya, thanks so much for coming on the podcast with us.

Maya Newell:
Thanks, so much for having me.

Lee:
You're welcome. Let's tackle the littlest question that sometimes packs a big punch. Most colleges on their supplement will ask a short first question that basically boils down to, why Dartmouth, why Northwestern, why Tufts, why Amherst.

And they're inviting you in a few words to pinpoint what are the reasons you chose to apply. You had lots of options, why is this one of them. Kids always think like what's the point of that question, and I always say back, "We're not looking for a love letter. You can share that with us if you know it. But we're really looking for some thoughts about the connection you see between who you are and who we are."

And I'm wondering can you read your first couple of sentences?

Maya:
Dartmouth and I live at the crossroads of nowhere and everywhere. As a half Chinese American born in Tokyo, my roots appear tangled to most. But like Dartmouth, it is at the intersections where I define myself.

Meredith:
You know, the first thing that popped into my head as you were reading this is just that the hook is so important. Just like it is in a book that I might read. Right?

Admission officers are just humans who love a good story, and a story starts with a good hook. I think you've done such a great job of captivating us right from the beginning. Yeah, it's amazing.

Lee:
And what's lovely about it, Maya, is you had the courage to be a bit more abstract. You know? You didn't point to a specific major right out of the gate. You didn't say I'm attracted to this beautiful college town in the woods that you offer. You didn't talk about something really concrete like that.

You connected this lovely sentence around the crossroads of nowhere and everywhere. What do you mean by that?

Maya:
Yeah. I wanted my essay to be really personal. One of the major parts of my identity is being multicultural and multiracial. I always sort of felt like I was put in a lot of different boxes, but no one box is really mine, to call my own.

And so, I really wanted to be in a place that was OK with that identity and really allowed me to be in those different spaces. And so, I really found that at Dartmouth, where you could go to all these different places, you could travel abroad, and you could study all these different disciplines.

But at the end of the day, you can find all of these things basically in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire. And I thought there was something really magical about that.

Lee:
Yeah. Then you went on to say, "It is at the intersections where I define myself." So, then you made it personal and you started reflecting on intersectionality, and then you highlighted the parts of the college that represent that intersectionality to you.

Maya:
Yeah.

Lee:
Yeah.

Meredith:
I think what's so important too, is that you have so few opportunities to tell the admission office about you. right? You have these two small answers and one longer essay as the opportunity. And one of those small essays is supposed to be about Dartmouth as opposed to you.

And so, I think you do such a nice job of using every space possible to talk about yourself, even when you're also using specific examples about why Dartmouth. That is a very hard thing to achieve, and I think it's really important because you have maybe 1000 words total to introduce yourself.

And so, using this space to talk about you as well as Dartmouth, I think is so important.

Lee:
So, then we get to the what's called the short response essay. Which is you have five choices, you get to pick one, and reflect on something that expands our sense of you. What did you choose to write about?

Maya:
Menstrual activism.

Lee:
Not something you hear every day in this part of the application. The question you answered was a quote from Dolores Huerta, a civil rights activist who co-founded the organization now known as the United Farm Workers. The prompt is speaking your truth. Talk about a time when your passion became action.

Which, in the contemporary space in which we live, action, activism, passion, protest are really front and center in our world. So, I'm going to guess the class that applies next year will respond to a question like this in a really purposeful way.

So Maya, you shared menstrual activism with us. Tell us a little bit about that as your narrative voice. What were you hoping to share with us by introducing yourself through that prism?

Maya:
Yeah. I think menstrual activism itself is really interesting, because it's so intersectional. It's inherently a very personal thing, but it affects essentially everyone. If you don't menstruate, you know a menstruater and you're here because of menstruation.

So, I thought that that was a pretty apt lens to introduce myself. I like sharing very personal things when I write, but I also like to be very aware of global issues and I like to connect with people. That's sort of why I thought that choosing menstrual activism and my role in it in the past couple of years was really going to show the most of my identity to the admissions council.

Lee:
Yeah. Just like you did in your why Dartmouth response, to Meredith's observation, you opened your essay with a hook. You want to share the hook with us?

Maya:
Yeah. I felt like a thief. Unexpectedly small and vibrantly packaged, it sat in my pale and sweaty palm, waiting to be opened. But did I want to open it?

Lee:
And then you continue. Why not summarize the middle part of this?

Maya:
Yeah. It's essentially talking about my struggle to be bold in my own personal experiences with menstruation and talking about it and crossing cultural barriers. And then it moves on to my boldness allowed me to sort of be a menstrual activist in my own community.

Lee:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And share that part of the essay, because it's also really powerful.

Maya:
Years later I was in a school restroom when I discovered a pad with a note. To whoever needs it. It was a small act, easy to miss, but it made me stop. Who would do this? Did they have no shame? Then I paused. I was choking on my mom's voice.

Lee:
Wow. Again, you're being really vulnerable as you invite us into this topic. What I loved as I read this this winter was, I felt like I was right there with you as you're sharing this experience. And your acceptance, really, of this part of your identity.

And then it became your calling.

Maya:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lee:
How did you...what was your last sentence? Or your last statement.

Maya:
I really am a big fan of circles, so I would sort of put a twist on my first sentence. Unexpectedly small yet overflowing with vibrant packages, there sat the basket of pads and tampons. But this time, looking at the program of free menstrual products that I had started at my high school, I felt like Robin Hood.

Lee:
So, you connect thief to Robin Hood.

Maya:
Yeah.

Lee:
Yeah. And Maya, you also chose the very end of the writing section on the common app, it invites additional information. Which most students don't include. You put a short statement about the National Period Day Boston rally that you helped organize.

You mentioned it in your supplement, it was on your extracurriculars. I wonder if you could read to us what you wrote.

Maya:
Yeah. The National Period Day Boston rally gained support for the I Am bill, which would provide accessible menstrual products in all Massachusetts public schools, sixth through twelfth grade, prisons, and homeless shelters.

It also raised awareness around the tampon tax. Menstrual products are taxed as a luxury in 35 states. It's less now. Not including Massachusetts. During the planning process, rally organizers lobbied Massachusetts legislators to support the I Am bill. I met with Senator Will Brownsberger.

Lee:
Great. In highlighting that, you really zeroed in on the specifics of what was your leadership, what's the cause, and why is it relevant. I will tell you as a reader who had not encountered this topic before in a student file, that additional information helped frame it for me as a cause that mattered to you.

Meredith, what are you thinking?

Meredith:
What I'm so struck by is you mentioned the word bold, and I would agree that that's a word I would use after reading this, to describe you. But I don't think you used that word in this essay. I think you did such a wonderful job of showing as opposed to telling, which is really hard to achieve.

But you did it so well. I got from it the word that I think you would hope that I got from it, which is bold and brave. I'm curious how ... we've talked about the topics that you chose. But how you approached the way that you wrote it and the voice that you used, did that take a lot of editing? Many different rounds back and forth? And how did you make sure that it matched the way you speak?

Maya:
Actually, I think all of my essays I wrote in one sitting each. They kind of came pretty organically to me. Which is sort of normal with how I write. I don't really like a clinical way of writing; I always prefer it to feel really organic.

So, in that sense, it was very easy to sound like me because I didn't really do a lot of second-guessing. But I also think another thing that was really important to me when revising my essays was not to have a lot of people read them.

Lee:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maya:
Yeah. Because I feel like when you have too many cooks in the kitchen, you're going to hear everyone else's voice. I hoped that the admissions officers would know that I was just a 17-year-old and so I would sound like a 17-year-old and not like my middle-aged dad or my neighbor.

Lee:
Yeah. Yeah. You're absolutely right. When admission officers are reading hundreds and hundreds of files during our selection round, a student voice is so clearly discernible from your 45-year-old dad's voice.

The voice of a parent is not your voice. And being true to that voice is an essential part of your storytelling, to the truth that you want to share with us.

Meredith:
And I'm so glad you said the word clinical. I think that's a really good way of putting it. You don't want it to sound clinical. And you can have a serious tone of voice if that's your natural voice, without being clinical.

I think that is achievable. You're a little bit more playful I think, and you have some interesting sentences that get me really engaged. But even if you were a really serious, introverted person, I think you can achieve that tone without being clinical. I liked that you used that word.

Lee:
Yeah. I do too. Before we say goodbye to Maya, her personal statement in her essay, which again went skidding right up to the word limit, you used this long form piece to bring yet another topic into your story.

This one feels like you lean into your Chinese heritage a bit more. Tell us what you were thinking as you wrote this.

Maya:
Yeah. I often find that I don't really understand things until I write about them. And so, the moments that this essay's based on, which was this interaction with my uncle in China, was something that I wanted to explore.

This sort of started off as a letter to myself, and then eventually I realized that it would be a good common app essay. So yeah, that's kind of how it came to be about.

Lee:
Well, and you also chose, as did Rashad, the share an essay on any topic of your choice. So, you went with the open-ended prompt that let you wander and wander in whatever direction felt right to you.

In the middle of your essay, you come to this point about what you just said, writing. Could you share that with us?

Maya:
Yeah. That's all I ever wanted to do. Every poem, every story, every essay, pen on paper, pen on hands, pen on walls, the oceans within me sometimes tempestuous, sometimes placid, always kaleidoscopic, escape so that my mind is no longer an island.

Lee:
Maya, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast and sharing your story. I'm really excited you're joining us.

Maya:

Thank you so much.

Lee:
You're welcome.

Meredith, on both sides of this admission process, you're in a school, I'm in a college, you were in a college, but you get this really rich opportunity to have these conversations with kids. And to me, as a reader, I always love their writing because I think it is this signature moment that I'm encouraging them through this episode, don't overlook it.

Like you have this open invitation to define yourself in whatever way feels right. And you get to do the same thing as you guide them through their thinking. But as we met Rashad and Maya, what jumped out at you about the way they both tackled their writing?

Meredith:
I was so impressed by them, first of all. You have such a wonderful incoming class it looks like, so congratulations on that. I'm always struck, working with my students and getting to read what they write, just at how they can make me laugh and they can make me think and they can make me question.
  

It's almost...I remember working at Tufts and just feeling like wow, I get to read cool stories every day for my job. What a gift that is. I think they took such great advantage of the opportunity that the supplement and the common app essay gave them, to tell real stories.

What strikes me is I often work with students who don't really feel like they have a topic to talk about. I can relate to that, feeling like well, the story I could tell is probably the same as my neighbor and their neighbor and their neighbor. I think they did such a good job of not looking too far for that topic, just sort of thinking about, as Rashad told us, just looking at what his biggest priorities are.

Just narrowing down a list and then looking at that and thinking huh, where does that come from. Why is that so important to me? That, in itself, can be a beautiful story and it doesn't need to be a life-altering event. It doesn't need to be the most interesting story of the most interesting man in the world. What is that? That's the beer, right?

Lee:
Yeah.

Meredith:
Dos Equis. But it doesn't need to be that. It can be small, and it can be every day. It just needs to be yours.

Lee:
Yeah. Yeah. What they both did very well is they avoided cliché.

Meredith:
Yeah.

Lee:
They didn't write the pro forma college admission topic, because they avoided the trap what does the college want me to say. I think they both very pointedly made comments about I chose to tell my story. I got all the other voices out of my head, out of my prose, and I just put my story out there.

I think that was a really...if there's a takeaway from this conversation, there it is. Be authentically you.

Meredith:
It's so funny too, because when they say that, I want to write what they want to hear, if anyone had ever asked you, Lee, what do you want to hear, would you ever say menstrual activism? We don't even know it existed.

And then it was just one of the most amazing essays. So, we don't even know what we want to hear until you tell us.

Lee:
Right. Right. And in her case, she's talking about Asian and Middle East studies and cognitive science. Her essays weren't about that at all. Rashad talked about engineering and sociology and then his life as a student in an urban area. Those topics are very organically ... yeah.

Meredith, thank you for joining us on The Search and sharing your wisdom. It's been, as always, really fun to hear your insights on this really wonderful topic of essay writing.

Meredith:
It was my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Lee:
You're welcome.

These last couple of conversations about what counts, the data, the voice, your transcripts and testing, your essays and recommendations, the way you introduce yourself to a college, helps you think about the introductory part of the application process.

As we move into the last couple of episodes of the series, it's time to turn the focus from the seniors who have completed the journey to the juniors, our audience, who are just in the midst of it. So, our next episode is Junior Jitters. We will meet three students at a charter school and their college counselor. All first in their family to go to college. All looking at college as this aspirational opportunity.

And the conversation we have with them is just another example of the magic of the work we do as college admission officers. Until then, this is Lee Coffin from Dartmouth College. Thanks for listening.