I’ll give it to you straight: I applied to Tufts because, junior year of high school, my guidance counselor added it to my “list of colleges” in the software our school used to guide us through the process.
To be honest, I don’t envy a lot of you right now. Once you do the hard part and get in, there will be some of you who get in your dream school and that will be that. There will be some of you who deal with a string of rejections until one school pulls through for you. In both cases, you basically have no thinking to do at all.
But for those among you sorting between terrific options, all the advice I can offer can be summed up like this: trust yourself. You’re going to be buried under a deluge, and everyone will have an opinion. There are two problems with that, though. One, everyone is biased in one way or another, your best interests at heart or not. Two, no one is you.
It’s really that simple. No one knows you the way you do. And, for everyone else, it’s just hypothetical. You’re the one signing yourself up for four years somewhere. And that means you should welcome suggestions and advice, but you should take it with a grain of salt.
For me, choosing to become a Jumbo didn’t come down to touring the school, falling in love with a department, hearing over and over about Tufts’ reputation—though all of that certainly helped.
No, what sealed the deal for me were the essays on the Tufts supplement to the Common App.
When I sat down in November 2010 (2010!!!!) and started filling out the Common App, I was eerily aware of how high the stakes were for every letter I typed. I hashed and rehashed and paced and only drank Mountain Dew. I drove my mom absolutely insane by randomly walking into her bedroom and spontaneously launching into a monologue about how I felt this experience did a better job of showcasing leadership than that experience but that experience was more unique and on and on. Then I’d walk back out with as little warning as when I arrived, leaving her bemused in bed with her laptop on her lap, only to return half an hour later and do it again.
But you know what I remember most vividly about the Tufts supplement, more than any other supplement for any other school in my top five?
I didn’t stress. I didn’t bother my mom. I didn’t stand up and pace. I didn’t prop my legs on my desk and gaze out of my window until numbness in my feet yanked me back to reality. I didn’t feel as though I was sitting in front of a stern-faced group of admissions officers, with the only light in the room being a spotlight on my face. (Seriously, that happened inside my brain while writing college essays. There exist very few words to describe how caffeinated I was for this entire process.)
But Tufts’ supplement? It felt like I walked into a Starbucks and whichever admissions counselor read my application was seated at a table in the corner, with two lattes on the table. As I read the questions, I relaxed. Not because they were simple, or easy, because they weren’t. I relaxed because they were warm. I relaxed because I realized, if I gave these questions my full attention, Tufts would reject or accept the person I was, not the SAT and GPA I lugged in with me.
And that feeling, that warmth, can be felt here on campus. It’s not perfect (read Pax et Lux to get my thoughts on that) but more than anything it’s the only way I can qualify the clichéd phrase “medium school with attention to students of small one and resources of a large one.”
To me, as I’ve felt it here, that warmth is born of humility. This isn’t a place that has always been a storied institution of higher education, and so no one is too small. No professor is out of reach; no director or dean will fail to respond to an email.
And in December 2010 (!!!!!), when I finished, before clicking submit I sat there and looked at my answers. They were good, certainly; they hit on important points and relevant experiences, and there were no egregious grammar mistakes. But they were a little rough around the edges. You could tell they were only first and second passes, not the fifth or sixth ones I had for all my other schools.
But they were organic. I’d written them as if I was having that conversation over coffee in Starbucks. They flowed with the ease good conversation does. They felt a little unfinished, but real and honest. Tufts brought those qualities out of me, and still does.
Those were the answers I submitted. So, in the end, that same logic clicked again when I thought about what school to pick. I listened to everyone, and I prowled the Internet relentlessly. But I came to realize two things: one, there is no answer. You guys are all brilliant kids used to there being a right answer. A clean, easy option that in hindsight was obvious.
Welcome to the real world: there isn’t. No right answer exists, but you can still make the best choice by knowing and trusting yourself. For me, that was thinking back to the fact that some college supplements made me stress even more. Some college supplements made me wonder just how much my ideas mattered versus how much a university liked my stats. But a few supplements (I count at most three from memory, including Tufts’,) made me reflect on who I am as a person, and eagerly share that.
Some supplements, I suppose, met me in a Starbucks on a rainy day, put a latte in my hand and gestured toward the two comfy chairs in the corner by a tall window.
Nearly two years later, that remains one of the best conversations I ever had.