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The 5 Most Important Principles of College Admissions

I forgot my laptop on vacation this week. I'm writing this blog from my phone as my four-year old falls asleep on my lap from a long day at the beach. These moments remind me of all the goodness in my life. They sometimes get lost in the daily stress of our lives. 

In honor of summer and celebrating what we have, here are the most important principles of the college admissions process:

1. Test scores don't define you.

You define yourself. If your scores are lower than what you hoped, consider a test optional college. Bowdoin College was the first school in the nation to not require test scores back in 1968. Since then, hundreds of other colleges have adopted this process. Some of my other test optional favorites are: Wesleyan, Wake Forest, George Washington University, and Temple University.

2. Community service is admirable, but do it because it's meaningful to you.

If not, college admissions folks see right through it. Believe it or not, service is not required to get into college. Most students will have some volunteer work on their application. If service work is your life's work, your "activities list" will speak for itself. Schools like Boston College, Tulane University, Loyola University-Chicago, and Notre Dame University value students who "give back."

3. Colleges need leaders AND contributors.

Chasing leadership titles is exhausting. Chase your "calling" instead. You will have much more IMPACT when you do—even more than the student with the biggest leadership title at your school. Look for colleges that allow you to show off your unique traits and skills. Colleges that allow art/writing portfolios, on-campus interviews, and additional essays want to identify the types of students who will contribute in a significant way. Goucher College allows video submissions. Hamilton College encourages interviews. And dozens of colleges partner with to provide students with a platform to show off their non-traditional work.

"Not a natural leader? That's okay. Chase your "calling" instead." TWEET THIS

4. It's never too late.

It is never too late to turn your grades around, get involved, or even start this process. The 23 campuses of the California State System do not evaluate 9th grade performance in the evaluation process. And most admissions deadlines aren't until the second half of senior year. That leaves plenty of time for a student to fill out an application and get some valuable work or extracurricular involvement under their belt before they apply. For those procrastinators, there's even a list of colleges that accept late applications.

5. There's a college out there for you.

As quirky, serious, fun-loving, or narrowly-focused as you are, there is a college that needs and wants you. The best way to determine this is to first visit the campus, and, second, look at the college's supplement (on The Common Application, for example). You can tell what a college is looking for by what short answer questions, essays, and additional requirements are on the supplement. A college's supplement is more revealing about the types of students they admit than anything else they share. My favorite colleges with soul-searching supplements are Brown University, the University of Chicago, and Stanford University. And if less is more, many institutions do not even require an essay.

I have been working on being more mindful over the past year. This week without a laptop is my biggest test. I have moments when I want to drive my car four hours each way to get my computer. But I have resisted and allowed myself to be in the moment. It allows me to focus on what I have, how I contribute in this big world we live in, and what is next. I hope all of you get time this summer to appreciate who you are and figure out a way to truly celebrate it in your college applications and in every single thing you do with your life.