Applying to College? Use a Winning Attitude to Get Accepted

By Dr. Steven C. Scheer, Ph.D.

In the real estate world the phrase is “location, location, location.” This may not be a deliberate echo of Henry David Thoreau’s famous urging to “simplify, simplify, simplify,” but that’s neither here nor there. I am, therefore, going to advise all would-be students who are thinking about applying to the college or university of their choice this: attitude, attitude, attitude.

I am not using the word attitude here in the sense in which your school principal might warn you that you have an “attitude.” I am using the word here as a synonym for disposition; the feeling you approach your task with.

Show Some Spirit

Being positive is important. And it’s important that if and when you have to add a personal essay to the forms you need to fill out, you be positive and optimistic. And show a spirited side of you that will look attractive on paper.

Your application and personal essay will be scrutinized by the admissions committee. This committee consists of faculty members, some of whom are bound to be – should you be accepted – your future teachers. So your personal essay should reflect who you really are.  Don’t try to be someone you are not.

Project The Real You

If you are interested in a subject, say so. And say why you like the subject in question. Don’t tell your readers what you think they want to hear. That sort of insincerity will show a mile off. Be honest. Be yourself. After all, it’s you who wants to go to the school of your choice and not some non-existent alter ego of you.

This is why your attitude is so important. Applying to the college or university of your choice is, after all, the first real step you are taking as a young adult. By this time you are probably 18 years of age; you can vote or enlist in the armed forces. You are a young adult. Your attitude should reflect this.

Write a Winning Essay

So what sorts of things should you include in the personal essay, if such an essay is required? You need to introduce yourself in a simple manner. Then you need to talk about why you are interested in going to the college or university in question. Do some research on the place beforehand. If you are interested in majoring in a certain subject, look up the requirements for that major in the school’s catalogue. Being familiar with those requirements will make what you say about your interest be all the more effective and convincing. 

If you are, like many of your peers, still undecided at this point, do state that fact. But if you know that you are going to be interested in some practical field rather than in, say, the liberal arts, you need to indicate that as well.

Practical fields break down into quite a few areas: the social sciences, like social work or psychology, for examples. The hard sciences (chemistry, physics, for examples). Technology, such as computers or software programming. Physical education. Do study the school’s catalogue for their offerings in all these areas.

Look Inside Yourself

Saying something about your study habits would also be appropriate. Are you a quick study? Do you easily remember facts? Or do you think of ideas first and then zero in on the facts that support those ideas? These are different ways of thinking. The first may be more characteristic of a science major, while the second implies an aptitude for the humanities.  Be honest about your capabilities and interests, and seek the opinions of experienced academics, such as guidance counselors, favorite teachers or professors.  Oftentimes they can help you “see” you more clearly than you can see yourself.

You are probably old enough when it comes to applying to the college or the university of your choice to know yourself well enough to know what you are doing with the task at hand. However, in this increasingly competitive environment, I’d strongly urge you seek some outside assistance; a trusted friend, an alumnus of the college you’re applying to, your high school and local libraries, and the Internet.

Keep in mind that if you approach this very important watershed in your personal growth, you are bound to succeed and make all your friends and family proud. And never give up. Remember the old adage, “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” Good luck to you.

Dr. Steven Scheer is a retired professor of English with 30 years of teaching experience behind him. He earned his Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University in 1974. He is a published author with four books and many essays and articles to his name


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