This is a big week for the college admissions process - early deadlines and the release of a new Taylor Swift album. You may wonder what the two have in common… but that Taylor Swift album will likely be the soundtrack for my entire reading season. Students often ask how their application is reviewed – and I can direct you to our website - but the other “how” is usually with a cup of coffee made by my roommate Eileen and Taylor Swift playing in my headphones.
The impressive thing to me about Taylor Swift is how comfortable she is with her identity. I’ve been a Taylor fan since my high school days listening to Our Song, and as some fans dropped away as she strayed from her country roots, I stuck with her. It feels like for every big moment in my life there has been an appropriate Taylor Swift song, and her evolution has in some ways been parallel to mine as I’ve changed and grown. The release of this new album got me thinking about all we’ve been through together, and reminded me of what all of my applicants are going through this week – who am I, what parts of my identity are most important to me, what do I want out of the next four years of my life, where do I want to be, who do I want to be with, how will I challenge myself, what do I want to learn, and most importantly, who do I want to become?
It may not seem like it when writing your 15th supplement essay, but the college application is an amazing process. There are few times in life when you are asked to define yourself, your community, your world. But when these opportunities arise: be yourself, fearlessly. When students are authentic, the words are genuine, the stories, emotions, voice – all real, that shines through on an application. It’s a daunting task at any point in life, but in particular, high school is a tough time to be the fullest version of yourself. The very nature of the college application – asking students to make themselves stand out – goes against everything society is telling you on how to fit in during high school. But it is only by knowing ourselves -whether that is our personal identity, our institution’s identity, our community’s identity – that we can begin to understand, find commonalities with, and inspire others.
My advice is this: ask big questions of yourself and of the institutions to which you are applying. What are their institutional values? How do they strive to educate their students? What makes them different in the world of higher education? If you aren’t satisfied with their answers, or if they can’t give answers, it may not be the right fit for you. Notre Dame might be loved and hated, but we are different; and I’m proud to work for an institution that has such a strong sense of self. It is not always easy to stand apart; but as an institution, we have committed ourselves to certain values and chosen to pursue those values without compromise. And as Taylor says, haters gonna hate hate hate…
So to all of our applicants, make the most of this opportunity for self-examination. Think of it as a blank CD, with a track for your high school transcript, a track for your essays, a track for your letter of recommendation etc. At the end of the process, make an album that you’re proud of - one that captures your identity and one that has intrinsic value to you outside of the approval or disapproval from those reviewing it. Taylor can tell you, fans come and go, and you may not be accepted to every institution; but if you develop an application, a voice, and an identity that is bursting with color, texture and life - you can then go confidently in whatever direction the college process takes you.