When an essayis not enough

OK, I'll admit it. I sent something in.

I was one of those high school students who thought I might benefit from thinking a little creatively about my college applications. So, just like a lot of seniors who are currently plugging away at their applications, I tucked in an extra submission along with my essay, recommendations, and transcript.

Talk to admissions officers, as writer Amanda Paulson did this week (see page 19), and you'll quickly discover that a lot of students aren't leaving any stone unturned in their bid for college admission. Sure, they're focusing on a great essay. But if a lot of children have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads this time of year, a lot of admissions officers are entertaining images of pies, fresh breads, musical tapes, and yes, life jackets that ambitious teens are winging their way.

The motive is simple: to stand apart from the crowd. Plenty is written about how tough it is to get into good schools. Everyone has great grades. Everyone has combined SATs of 1200-plus. Everyone has changed the world.

Time to send in the concert-level musical tape or Godiva-quality homemade chocolates, made in the hours between getting A's and saving the whales.

Does it help? Sometimes, according to admissions officers - especially at competitive schools, which take submissions seriously. But it can hurt too, if you're not a budding Yo-Yo Ma or Julia Child.

Would I do it again? My musical tape may have helped me in a couple of cases. But today, as kids strive to package and pose, it seems as if trying to be really different has in many ways become more of the same. And that takes some of the fun out of it.

E-mail newcomba@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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