College Guidance Interview
I know I speak for more than just myself when I say some of the worst Sundays of my life were spent at a Capital Educators SAT-prep course at McDonough – three-and-a-half hours of precious time dedicated to out-witting the dirtiest, most insufficient academic test that I have had the utmost displeasure of taking. In the simple fact that I was there, I realized its bias; I, despite my dissatisfaction, was fortunate enough to be able to gain the advantage prep courses provide over those who are too financially restricted to afford them and who instead must walk into the testing facility and, with little if any prior knowledge, take a test that is designed to trick them. During those most sublime of hours, however, my mind occasionally turned to another matter. In between the teachers’ rare moments of brilliance when some wayward whim would suddenly remind them what, exactly, they were being paid for – when my ears began to process their repetitious dialogue as mere static, Shulzian drones – I thought about college.
Up until this year, college had always been, for me, little more than a distant storm on the horizon. But when I realized that it would actually be next year when I would begin the application process, I felt as though I had been more or less metaphorically slapped in the face, and, more importantly, I felt hopelessly inadequate. In those reflective moments, I tumbled into a state of pure existential panic. What, in my precious sixteen, going on seventeen (<–that’s definitely a song) years as a non-embryonic human being, had I accomplished? What was so great, so unique, about me as an individual that even merited more than a glance at my future resume by any half-decent institution? What’s more, good grades and high test scores no longer guarantee you much of anything, and college selectivity is higher than it has ever been.
So, what did I do? I seized the opportunity my most advantageous position as a Quill writer offered me, to discuss things with former Brown admissions officer and resident college guidance advisor, Ms. Erica Cousins. Though I acknowledged that Ms. Cousins isn’t exactly the person to burden with my existential questions and personal instability, she is the type of person who might be able to clarify what, exactly, secures applicants an acceptance letter to the top schools in the nation.
In her rather brief interview, she, to my great unease, confirmed the rumors; indeed, the annual number of college applicants is on the rise, and acceptance rates are on an equally steep decline. These days, while a strong academic record and impressive standardized test scores are important, they are essentially an entry fee for more than a few rigorous universities. Instead, she referred to an ulterior factor. “In college admissions,” she said, “there’s something called ‘the hook’ [...] that one thing that makes you so unique, so undeniably great, that a college campus sees you above the rest.” It is no longer sufficient, even, to have a long, diverse, list of extracurriculars. According to Ms. Cousins, “hooks” can be anything from a unique nationality and rare heritage, to a life-altering experience. “[With] nearly every application I saw [at Brown],” she added, “I could say: ‘this student would do well at Brown [...It’s just a matter of] pulling those ones out that are really unique and that would make [for] a unique community.”
As I was preparing to leave to finish that god-forsaken, dissertation of a chemistry pre-lab, however, she shared with me some parting advice that perhaps had more relevance to all of you freshmen and sophomores: “you need to, these days, start thinking about [college] really early. Think about: are you going to travel abroad one summer? Are you going to participate in a volunteer activity?” In our time together, I realized how so very disheartening and inspiring it is to think that college is really only the beginning.