What would Kurt and Rachel do?
Yes, I know Glee is a wee past its prime on the hip-o-meter but bear with me for a moment as I make my point. What would the two songbirds from McKinley High do before a big competition? The diva duo would definitely be honing their powerful vocal chords before they headed off to Regionals or Nationals, and as a college applicant you should be doing the same thing as you complete your Common Application. It’s time to find your perfect pitch.
I’m not suggesting you should start singing in the shower before you submit your application. But I am confirming that a strong voice is a really important dimension of the application you will submit. When an admission officer opens the manila file with your name emblazoned on it and starts to read, it should be like Rachel took center stage and started to belt one out. You want the reader to take note, maybe say “wow.” You certainly don’t want to be “flat.” Let me explain.
I just peeked at the server for the Common Application. So far, 20,057 students have started an application to Tufts. Of course, some of those embryonic applications will never be submitted—a chunk will have been accepted somewhere else via Early Decision (kudos!) and others will shift their college list as the deadlines near—but the vast majority is headed our way over the next three weeks. That means we’re on the cusp of another record-setting admissions cycle (you just groaned, didn’t you?) and your voice must be crystal clear as we sift and sort that deep pool and shape the Class of 2016. You’re the only one who can bring your voice to life. (And you’re the one who will join that class.)
Your “voice” matters because your data will most likely confirm that you are qualified for admission to Tufts. How do I know that? History repeats itself. Over the last several years, approximately 75 percent of our applicants met that critical threshold of academic eligibility when an admission officer reviewed their transcripts (curriculum and grades), standardized testing and teacher recommendations (preferably someone from junior or senior year). In other words, our evaluation of applications determined that the academic record of a large majority prepared them for admission to Tufts. That’s good news! (Your tail should be wagging.) But it’s also challenging news (droopy tail) since we cannot accept 75 percent of our pool. (Can you tell I have a new puppy in the house?)
There are several opportunities for your voice to soar. At Tufts, our supplement to the Common Application is like iTunes: voices of all genres can be discovered. Your responses to the three short questions (a combined 600 words, probably less than you text in a day…) can add a powerful zing to your candidacy.
“Why Tufts?” we wonder. You’re applying to a bunch of schools; why did this one make your cut? Tell us what resonated with you. It could be a warm fuzzy reaction to the campus vibe or an affinity to one of our majors, professors or teams. It’s just 50 words, less than a Tweet.
We invite you to “Let your life speak.” (I love that phrase.) What does it say? Where have you been? Who was with you? How did your upbringing on a farm in rural New Hampshire, among the traffic jams and "bling" of LA or the intersection of ancient and modern in Istanbul frame the way you see the world and your place in it? When we celebrate the fact that all 50 U.S. states and dozens of countries are represented in our undergraduate community, we’re not bragging about the zip codes we collected in the class. It’s the zip that those places add to your outlook, style and intellectual engagement that counts.
We ask you to muse about self-identity. “Are you a vegetarian? A poet?” we ask. “Do you prefer You Tube or test tubes, Mac or PC? Are you the drummer in an all-girl rock band? Do you tinker? Use the richness of your identity to frame your personal outlook.” Show us how you think, play, behave. Who are you, my friends? Something that seems “conventional” to you (“my life is too normal,” you might be thinking) can seem noteworthy to us. Normal is relative, after all. Maybe you’ve known that you’ve wanted to be a doctor since you were five. Or maybe you’ve been an artist since the first time your toddler fingers grabbed a Crayon. Or perhaps you’re an aspiring surgeon who loves bloody Renaissance paintings and muses about the ethical boundaries of contemporary medicine. All three examples make sense, and that last one has some flavor to it. As a reader, I start to think “hmm, this kiddo has her wheels spinning in some interesting directions.” And I think you can see why that would be a good reaction for the reader to have.
We require this quick set of personal questions because it helps us build our community; your responses enrich the texture of this place. As proof, check out my Introducing the Class of 2015. Everything in my Matriculation speech—each anecdote and every ounce of personality it reflects—was culled from last year’s supplemental responses. Voices roared and we listened. The students who were offered admission were not just a jumble of impressive grades and test scores: they were people with eclectic and appealing characteristics that make Tufts the lively, playful, quirky campus that it is. We want to offer you a dynamic undergraduate experience but we can't create it (at least the Tufts version of it) if everyone thinks and looks and acts the same way. (That would be boring.) Show us what you’d add to the jigsaw puzzle we’re assembling.
And then there’s the optional (don’t make me say it again…) essay. Consider the instructions we offer: “Think outside the box when you answer. Take a risk and go somewhere unexpected. Be serious if the moment calls for it but feel comfortable being playful if that suits you, too.” Celebrate your nerdy side? Why did you do it? Recast a historical figure (real or imagined) in the present? How can your answers to questions like that be anything but expressive? But if you think your answer to the Common App’s personal statement adds the necessary jolt of voice to your application, skip the optional essay. That’s why it’s not required.
Be authentic. Don’t let too many people grab your draft and erase the snap, crackle and pop from your prose. (Yes, dear well-intentioned mothers, I am talking to you.) “Safe” isn’t always the best route, at least as far as Tufts goes, and some of your future classmates will back me up on that one.
Your application is your narrative spotlight. Use the sum of its collective parts to introduce your personality in a direct and genuine way. Don’t be muted. Don’t pretend you are someone you are not. (It’s not Halloween.) If you’re a Goth babysitter don’t transform yourself into a preppy version of that role because you think someone will like it better; Tufts is diverse in the broadest sense of that word and piercings have their place. All are welcome.
Now it’s time to write, my friends. So put your paws (I’m channeling Lady Gaga…) on your keyboard and try to hit “send” before New Year’s Eve. That’s a night to celebrate, not to finish a homework assignment.