The phrase brand-building conjures up images of Mad Men, and of ad executives coming up with schemes to convince people to buy things they don’t need. It doesn’t seem related to the thoughtful process parents and students go through to find and get into college. And yet, given the complex college admissions process students face today, building a coherent identity—a “brand”—is critical for students applying to college.
Why is This Important?
As college application coach Sharon Genicoff says, “In today’s competitive college landscape it is important for applicants to stand out among their peers. By defining a “personal brand identity,” admissions officers can clearly understand who you are and how you will contribute to and fit within their school community, both academically and socially.”
Brand-building for college is about understanding who you are, both your strengths and your weaknesses, and finding a way to express your authentic self consistently throughout your application.
In our experience, after working with many students:
- Colleges are much more likely to accept a student whose academics, extracurricular activities, and community service all tell a clear, understandable story.
- Schools are looking to find students that fit their campus community and culture. If you’re a buttoned-down, hard-driven student, you might not be a great fit at a school that values cultural non-conformity and exploration. The reverse is true as well, of course.
- Admissions officials want to get a sense of each student as they go through the process. They want to understand what makes you tick. Are you driven to be creative? Are you focused on community and family? Do service and social good motivate you?
How to Create and Communicate Your Brand<
- Know Yourself: One way to do this is to take a scientifically valid interest test or personality test. That will help you have a sense of what you want to do. The other is to talk to people you trust: such as counselors, coaches, and parents.
- Focus your extracurricular activities on a few themes: One student we worked with is an environmental activist, and her extracurricular activities, whether through the Girl Scouts or elsewhere, were all directed at environmental work. Many students feel compelled to do a variety of activities to build a thicker resumé. But this approach does not impress colleges, and of course, it doesn’t lead to a less stressful experience either.
- Write essays that convey your goals and identity: Finally, writing great essays can help you express your brand. Write about things you’re genuinely passionate about, whether that is your ethnic identity, your love of sports, or your interest in music. The passion will show, and college admissions officials will notice.
Finally, at the beginning of the college admissions process, do a thorough evaluation of your social media presence. What information about you does your social media presence convey? Make sure all your application materials (essays, résumé, supplemental answers) share a consistent message.
The college admissions process gets more complex each year. For parents who fret, “this wasn’t so hard when I was a kid,” it can be a frustrating feeling. But embrace the complexity. The rewards are worth it, and fretting won’t change the truth.