(How to Differentiate You From Every Other Applicant)
Tell me about yourself.
What should be the easiest question to answer, is often the most frequently botched. Usually, the answer I get is, “What do you want to know?” Well, at this point, not very much because it sounds like you don’t have much interesting to say. Only slightly more adept is the “My name is Johnny. I’m a senior. I play the guitar… [blank stare].” Hmm. Well, I know your name is Johnny because you just introduced yourself and I’m guessing you are a senior because you are applying to college. So, you play the guitar, huh? Ok. Next?
What if, instead, Johnny said, “I really love music – composing, writing and performing. Growing up, I lived in different countries and cultures and was always trying to find a way to fit in. When I moved to the US, I discovered music and immediately fell in love with it because no matter what language you speak, everyone understands music. It’s a way to communicate, even if you might not have the right words.”
Ok, now we are getting somewhere. Johnny loves all aspects of music because it’s how he communicates. Johnny has also lived all over the world and I bet he has some interesting perspectives and experiences to share. And, Johnny knows who he is and is confident in what he wants.
Which Johnny would you remember? More importantly, which Johnny do you want to admit into your incoming class?
You might hear some people refer to this general idea as a “hook” or a “theme.” In business, it’s called an elevator pitch. I refer to these 2-3 sentences that summarize your specific blend of talents and skills and what you will bring to your future college community as your Unique Value Proposition (UVP). Much like a UVP tells customers what differentiates Nordstrom™ from Target™ or Nike™ from Crocs™, your UVP tells colleges what differentiates you from all of the other smart, talented students who are applying to your top choice schools. It is not about what you do; it is about who you are.
Developing your UVP is the most important part of your application because will form the cornerstone of your college application strategy. Once you have this, it’s pretty easy to figure out how every piece of the application will work together to tell your target schools what makes you uniquely you. Remember the puzzle we keep talking about? Your UVP is the picture on your application puzzle and every other piece of your application – your transcripts, test scores, recommendations, activity list and essays – work together to explain who you are, what you will bring to that school and the impact you will have after you graduate. I’m always stunned that most students seem to forget this critical step.
But, I admit, it’s not easy. Many students struggle with this concept. So, how exactly do you write the perfect UVP? Start by focusing on your skills. What are you great at? Are you a great writer, do you take terrific photographs, are you skilled at bringing people together? Next, focus on your interests. Do you love the environment, do you delight in experiencing world cultures, or are you a film buff? Finally, what impact do you want to have on the world? Do you want to invent something, solve something or improve something? Maybe you want to solve world hunger, or dream of working at the UN? These are all things that can make up your UVP.
So, next time someone asks you about yourself, don’t shy away.
This question is a gift. It is your opportunity to tell the other person whatever you want them to know about you. In fact, the entire college application is a long-winded way of asking “Tell me about yourself.” So, tell them.