In response to the guide I spun up for seniors applying to college, I received two questions that I would like to address now. I've opted for a more public discussion of the questions because I feel like it's important for everyone to learn from each other in an open sort of format. So without further ado, question numba one from Alex is as follows:

Could you tell me more about teacher applications and how they work (max to send, which teacher or what people should send them,etc.)

With teacher recommendations, you are definitely walking on thin ice. Recommendations tend to be fairly involved and lengthy, requiring much time and effort on the reader's part. Now, as long as you are fulfilling the number of recommendations required, no problem. The problems arise when sending in optional recs. You send in too many and well, you're guaranteed to aggravate your reader and may earn yourself some negative feedback.

The trick to this is to restrain yourself to only sending in a maximum of two recommendations above the number required. These extra recs, however, should not come from teachers since it goes without saying that good students receive good references - the same good references. Not too many words exist for "hard work" and "amazing intelligence" and consequently recommendations start becoming repetitive. For this reason alone, I encourage you to solicit recommendations from sports coaches, research mentors, dance instructors, and so on. Ask for references from people who know you out of school, people who will talk about your non-academic qualities, the ones that show that you aren't a human-killing robot programmed to study by day and take over the world by night. For my own application, I asked my research mentor who graciously provided me with many kind words about his experiences with me over the past two years.

For submitting the recommendations, basic etiquette dictates one of the following two options: agree on picking up the materials sealed after a designated amount of time or provide stamped envelopes for the teachers to use in sending in the recommendations. Either one is perfectly acceptable.


The second question, coming from Ahana Datta, is:

somehow I'm getting cold feet at the prospect of the application. I mean, there is so much I want to say on the application, but then I feel it's all done before. how do you get around that?!

Don't feel alone! This is a common sentiment. I believe all of us at one point in time during the application process felt as if we were standing at the base of Mount Everest wondering how we could ever climb such a beast. In some respects, everything you might put on the application may have been used before, but in the end, it's the specific combinations that matter. Thousands of prefrosh may play tennis, do research, or help out clinics in third world countries, but how many do all three? Think about filling out your application as playing a game of "Apples to Apples" - if only it were as much fun too! Individually, the words available surely have passed through the hands of many, but once you look at the combinations of words, distinctness arises and your true personality shows - the words revealing your innermost nature (at least that's what some say).

To further individualize what are you writing, use examples. While overall ideas repeat, life examples usually do not. If talking about how tennis leadership shaped your character, discuss the instance when you helped Rob with his family crisis or had to intervene in a serious fight between two players. If telling the reader that your life-long dreams were influenced by your childhood, bring up the middle school science teacher who left a lasting impact on your life or the Gray's Anatomy book your mother got you when you were only in 5th grade. It's the stories, the moments in life, that will eventually distinguish you from the abstract pile of applications. Think hard about your life and build up a bank of examples you can use in your application.

All this is essentially a long about way of saying that you should refrain from hesitating to write something in the fear that it seems too plain and probably overused. Even if people are using similar ideas, the pieces of your application will fit together differently than theirs, giving the reader a completely separate, idiosyncratic image of you.


While digging in my brain - what a dark and scary place - for answers to these questions, I realized that I should mention something about updates.

Updates are a useful tool to stay in contact with the college and remind them that you're still alive and kicking. Every time you send in an update, someone has to dig up your folder and leave a sticky note or something that will end up in your reader having to pull up your application to read again. This is definitely good. Every time this happens, the reader is re-familiarized with you and will begin to notice how devoted you are to the institution. Only use this tactic, however, for serious updates. Any achievements that involve the regional level or above merit such lengths. Anything else does not. In your cover letter, include some sentiments about how deeply interested you are in the school and how much you dream about going there next Fall. It's always a good thing to remind your top school how interested you are.

I hope what I have said comes in handy. Sorry that all you MIT prefrosh have to wait a little bit longer, but like most have been saying, use this time to contemplate what you want to convey to the admission committee. Again, if anyone has questions, feel free to shoot away!