Authenticity and Your College Applications

The college search process can be both exciting and anxiety-inducing. I believe this to be especially true now, during the age of COVID, when schools have revamped their respective websites to provide copious amounts of information in place of in-person visits.

Among the various pages that you’ve read during your search, I am certain that one word has appeared across all the schools you’ve looked at: authenticity.

You may well also have encountered phrases like  We want to know who you are or maybe this is an opportunity for us to learn more about you.  What does this all mean, though, and more specifically, what does it mean for you during the college admissions process?

First, let’s look at authenticity. At its core, authenticity means being your most honest self and embracing all the parts of yourself that make you who you are.

For you, that might mean embracing your identity as a student, artist, athlete, activist, or even an environmentalist. What’s more, this could also mean embracing the other intersections that contribute to the entirety of your identity. This could include your race, ethnicity, the neighborhood you grew up in, the school you attend, or even your family dynamic. All these things (and more) contribute to who you are, and while there might be overlap with a friend or a sibling, your intersections and identifiers make up who you are, and presenting these things to the world around you is authenticity.

Still, what does this mean for your journey through the admission process, and why are schools so interested in it?

To better understand the significance of authenticity, it is important to look at the topic through two lenses: those of the school and of the student. For the school, authenticity centers around its mission statement. In other words, what does the school want to achieve as an institution and how does this reverberate through every part of its community?

As you search for schools, the admissions page might be where you come across the school slogan several times. For example, if you review Boston College’s admissions page, you will see the school’s commitment to upholding its Jesuit traditions and its dedication to a well-rounded education. On an institutional level, this is the school presenting its most authentic self to you and hoping that you are interested enough to apply.

On the other hand, authenticity during the admissions process relies on you! As an educator, I have found that the best place to begin is by crafting your own mission statement, i.e., a list of things that are most important to you in a college experience. For example, you might really want to attend a school that emphasizes community service or one that is committed to upholding faith-based values. This part of your process can include anything you want! Next, you should consider if there is an overlap between your personal values and the college you are interested in. If there are, you are on the right track.

Finally, as you consider presenting your most authentic self to the admissions teams of the colleges on your list, you should remain mindful of one thing:  You are not applying as the student you think the school wants you to be, but rather as the student that you are.  That is to say, if you have found schools that value and encourage students to have multiple interests because that is who you are, then highlight your multiple passions. For example, academically, you might be interested in studying chemistry in college as you are passionate about science; however, in your spare time, you enjoy felting, painting, and theatre. When applying, highlight your multiple interests throughout your application, including in your essay and resume.

Ultimately, your application is a story, and it should tell who you are and how you plan to contribute to your new college community.