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Episode Notes

Episode Title: Segment #1: A Holistic Approach. A Guide to Build a Standout US College Application.

Episode summary introduction: Segment #1 of the 10-Segment Podcast Series to help students in 11th Grade build their best US College Application. Each segment includes an Assignment based on the topic discussed. Subscribe for Assignments.

In this segment, Athena Lao of Admissionado leads us through the discussion. In addition, 2 Admissions Officers and 3 US College Alumni are also featured.

In particular, we discuss the following:

  • What are US Colleges looking for?
  • What makes a “great” applicant?

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introduction to the Series [0:52]
  • Misconception about what Colleges are looking for [4:54]
  • What are Colleges Really looking for? [8:47]
  • How should student applications address the Colleges’ needs? [11:29]
  • What makes a “great” applicant? [16:56]
  • Introducing “SPARC” - A Method to showcase an Applicant’s Strengths [19:15]
  • “S” [20:10]
  • “P” [23:25]
  • “A” [26:54]
  • “R” [32:25]
  • “C” [37:04]
  • How Admissions Officers evaluate each Application? [41:57]
  • Call to Action - Subscribe for Assignments [48:00]

Our Guest: Athena Lao, is the Head College Mentor at Admissionado, College Counseling firm that works with college-bound students in the US, China and India aspiring to apply to US Colleges. Admissionado has successfully helped students land in the top US universities over the last decade.

Memorable Quote: To maximize different parts of a student’s college application, “We at Admissionado think that this method [SPARC], is really helpful for students, and you can apply it or use it, for any school you are applying to, not just for Ivy League…

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.


Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Athena Lao  0:06  

I didn't apply to that many schools, I only applied to six schools. Actually, one of them was in my hometown, Athens, Georgia has the University of Georgia, which is our flagship public university, and has a lot of students. My mom said, If you stay here, I'll do your laundry every weekend. So that was very tempting.

But yeah, um, you know, I, when I thought, well, how can I really make the most of these next four years? How can I get this new experience and see and figure out who I am, um, you know, I, I knew I wanted to go out of state. So the two Ivy League schools that I applied to were Yale and Harvard.

Venkat  0:52 [Introduction to the Series]

That is Athena Lao. Athena chose Harvard, and went on to graduate with a degree in Classics.

Welcome to our podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters.

I am your host, Venkat Raman.

Over the last 9 months, I have had the opportunity to talk to dozens of Alumni like Athena, from some of the Top Colleges and Universities in the US. On our podcasts, they have shared their personal college stories, their dreams, their passions, their struggles as they made their college journey.

Each story is different.

What is similar, is that each alum had, in their own unique way, fashioned a path that took them to college and beyond.

This Podcast Series is here to help you, start your own, personal college story!

As an aspiring college student or parent, you are probably inundated with a barrage of college information. It is unclear how much of it is credible or complete or relevant.

It is natural to be a little confused, leaving you unsure as to how to proceed.

Our goal with these podcasts is to be a credible, reassuring voice, to lift the fog, and show a clear path to your final destination: College.

To that end, we are producing a Podcast Series made up of 10 segments - one segment to be delivered each month, from January to October 2021.

This series is being created in collaboration with Admissionado, a US-based college counseling company that has counseled and guided thousands of students globally, with tremendous success for more than a decade.

These segments are aimed at students who are currently in 11th standard/grade who plan to apply to US Colleges at the end of this year.

Each Monthly Segment will contain 3 parts:

  • Deep, “how to” content about that Segment’s topic led by a Counselor
  • Related Assignment or assignments for Students
  • Vignettes from Alumni or Admissions Officers’ showcasing relevant tips, experiences or insight, interspersed between various sections in the podcast.

In today’s segment on “Holistic Approach to College Applications”, I am joined by someone you heard at the start of this segment - Athena Lao, Head Mentor at Admissionado.

Venkat  3:52

Before we discuss what colleges are looking for in their applicants, with Athena, I asked Lisa Przekop, Admissions Director at University of California Santa Barbara the same question.

Here’s what she said.

Lisa Przekop  4:10

The great thing about our selection process is there's room for both that generalist and that specialist, one student might be competitive because we're impressed at the depth of what they've specialized in, and another student might be competitive because we're impressed that they've gone on such an exploratory journey and have really learned a lot about themselves along the way.

So it's, it's hard to give students what are we looking for? Because what I'm looking for is well, what are you interested in? Sure, and what have you done to get there?

Venkat  4:43  

So I wanted to start with this question about what are colleges really looking for in their applicants?

Athena  4:54  [Misconception about what Colleges are looking for]

Right, and this is a huge question. I know that when you are a High School student or a parent, especially in your junior year, this is probably top of mind. And so fortunately, you've come to the right place, because we have a, we have a lot to share about that topic of what US Colleges are looking for.

I think we first need to step back and understand that the ways that colleges communicate what they're looking for, are different from what they're actually looking for.

And what that's all I'll share a story that maybe resonates with a lot of the listeners. So maybe you've been to a virtual admissions event, or a college or maybe even in person, pre COVID days. And when you've attended those events, you've probably heard the admissions officer or the representative talk about all the different factors that they use in their process of holistic admissions.

So maybe you'll hear them say something like, we as a US college are looking for students with high test scores and great grades, who have strong extracurriculars, potentially leadership and something, we are looking for students who are able to articulate what they care about, and what problems they want to solve in the world and are able to write about that on their essays. They're looking on [for] recommendations.

So all of those factors, all those parts of the application are important. US colleges are looking for students to present themselves well.

But what I think happens is that once students and families hear that they translate that advice from the admissions officers into, oh, what US colleges are looking for is a checklist of my strong performance and all of these different components that they've just mentioned.

And so here to say is that that is an incomplete understanding of what US colleges are looking for. And the reason that that is incomplete is because there's a wrong assumption there. And the wrong assumption is that, by this thinking that your application simply works in this vacuum. That the college application process for the US consists of the admissions officers looking at the different parts of your application saying, Oh, they have a 4.0, they have a 1600 on the SAT, oh, their recommendations are great. And they care about the environment they're in!

Athena  7:30  

Well, well, I wish it were that simple. And that we could approach it this way, we have to remember that us colleges are operating in a larger, larger context, they are thinking about not just who are the best students in terms of numbers and what is on paper, but they're thinking about this bigger question of how they build a student body that is going to be bound for the greatest success, the greatest maximum positive, positive impact in the world, and how that can help their institution in the future.

So I think if we want to answer this question of what are US colleges are looking for, we have to think beyond the usual checklist, and really think about okay, what is my what is what is the role that my application is playing within this larger context of us colleges, staying themselves and make sure that they have the most successful student body as a whole.

Venkat  8:34  

So based on what you're saying, it feels like there's something that is even more important to college than the ones they are talking about. Right? So what are they telling you?

Athena  8:47  [What are Colleges Really looking for?]

Yeah, exactly. So with US colleges, and maybe other colleges do around the world, but, there's this sort of behind the scenes version of things. And that is, it's not just a one way street in which you get to have this great education, which we totally want you to have. But Colleges also need to get something out of this whole process, too. So if you think about it, if you think about why schools like Harvard, Yale, all the other Ivies, and you know, the large public universities, any sort of college that's has stuck around for, for a long time for hundreds of years. The reason they're able to do that is because they've built up this brand they've built there's this idea within the US that they are the successful institutions, that those are the places you want to go to get a great education.

And the reason they're able to accomplish that is because they're able to attract students successfully, who were able to make use of all the resources at these institutions were able to do great research to contribute to the community.

And then after those students graduated, they became successful alumni, in whatever and, successful professionals in whatever field they were in, and maybe some have even donated to the schools.

So, a college by being able to attract the best students possible who are destined for future success, and who are able to get them to give back to the school through donations, or as you know, alumni volunteers, what have you, that helps the college a lot, too.

So, understanding that this process, in some ways is a dialogue, It's not just a one, a monologue that you're giving, right?

You know, that I think revealing that can help students understand that they can, that can help students be a bit more strategic and how they present themselves and understand what to prioritize in showing the schools what they can offer.

Athena  10:46  

So, yeah, so I guess what I mean to say, in very short terms, is that colleges are looking for students, they're looking to take a bet on and invest in students who they think are bound to be future successes, and whatever they want to do. So that way, the college can continue their own brand, sustain themselves financially, and continue to provide an educational opportunities to future generations.

So you're part of that, listener.

Venkat  11:19

So then, what do you think a student should do to sort of address this? What's the best way for a student to approach this?

Athena  11:29  [How should student applications address the Colleges’ needs?]

That's a great question. And that's the 100 million dollar question, out of all of this.

So students, I think, well, the first thing is to take a step back and breathe, because this feels like a very daunting task to say, oh, gosh, okay, future success, what even, What does that mean? How do I show that compared to someone else, especially when I'm competing with all of these other students who might have X background or whatever?

 So I think, first, you need to understand that most students are, so there are a few students who will be in the category in a sort of special category. So for reasons that are beyond your control, they're most likely going to get in because they're, they're tied to what future success looks like.

It's, it's connected to maybe their parents, right? Maybe they are the child or grandchild of royalty, of a president of someone who can make a happy donation to the school, even though that, you know, is not a guarantee of getting in, you know, maybe they have some sort of tie to another existing brand, right like that, that's just going to make them signal to the school, okay, well, we're picking on a brand that already has a lot of success. So by choosing a student who's part of that already, that is probably going to continue this association with success. You know, maybe they're an athletic recruit. So they play a sport very well, they're the top for that sport. And so the school definitely want them. You know, they're legacies, maybe they're the seventh generation in a line of student of, you know, family members that have gone to particular school.

And so for the rest of that, for the rest of us, or most of the folks listening to this, you know, that's, we recognize that that exists, but that is beyond our control. So I think worrying about how you'll compare with those categories of students is not particularly helpful. I think what we can focus on is what is within our control.

So that's where the pieces that the admissions officer going back to that admissions event you've probably attended in the past. So when they talk about the grades, the scores, the extracurriculars, the leadership, the essays, the different parts of the application that everyone has to submit, those are the parts where you can signal how that you are bound for future success. You can through your essays through the activities that you list and, and how you show the impact you've made in the ways that your teachers and any other recommenders talk about you, and your character, all, all those explicit and the in between, in between the lines, sort of what the admissions officer reads in your application, that's going to be what signals Oh, this person is bound for success, for sure. And we want them to be part of our institution, because we're going to benefit from it too, in the future.

So you know what that looks like for each particular student. It's different for everyone.

Athena  14:31  

You know, what the thing that everyone has in common in the application process is that their particular application is going to be unique. So I think once you, you realize the amount of kind of unique strategizing it takes in this process, hopefully, that that feels better because it's really up to you and what you can uniquely contribute and show and it doesn't really depend on you know, all these other factors beyond your control.

Venkat  15:01  

Here is Anika Gupta, a graduate of MIT.

Anika Gupta  15:05  [Interest in Science started in High School]

I've always had an interest in science that initially stemmed from a little bit of math interest and a little bit of biology interests. And initially growing up, I thought that they were pretty disparate fields. Math is very theoretical, and biology, I was particularly motivated because of its applications in medicine, right.

And then I had some, I was fortunate to have some very inspiring teachers throughout middle school and high school, who really showed to me that there's actually a possibility to intertwine these fields and combine even physics and chemistry, I remember, I was walking down the stairs of one of my high school buildings one day and reading a physics textbook, and I saw that they're explaining principles of physics in the double stranded helix for a DNA molecule.

And that, to me was the first time I actually saw that there are these fields that we have been taught separately from each other actually have a lot of intersections. And that was just one microcosm of so many other examples that I've come to experience.

But I think it really did come down to - I had an innate interest in some of the science and math, but then I was really, really fortunate to have some mentors in my life who took me under their wing who showed me different examples of how science can be deployed to actually solve problems, how it isn't just disparate fields, but you can actually think creatively and combine different fields.

I had started doing some research in high school, and that I think, really kicked off as a result of being nurtured by some science mentors in high school.

Venkat 16:48  

So Athena, let's talk a little bit about what makes for a great applicant.

Athena  16:56  [What makes a “great” applicant?]

Yeah, so the shortest answer here, going off what I said earlier about what schools are looking for, is that a great applicant is one who's able to convey most effectively to a school that they're destined for future success.

So as if you've been following along with a discussion, you know, most people are going to think about this in terms of all the usual categories, the test scores, the grades, the extra curriculars, etc.

But, as we were mentioning before, the drawback of thinking about this this way, is that you ignore that bigger picture about what us colleges are looking for that they're also making investment into students are making an investment on students who they think are destined for future success, so that the college can continue its brand, and its ability to sustain itself financially.

So when you think about that, you need to remember that there's, there's something more that you need to show and not just your singular successes and each of these different elements. So I think that the way that we like to approach this is we have a method which we like to call the SPARC method.

Athena  18:12  

Usually you spell spark with S-P-A-R-K. But ours is special because it has a C in it, it's S-P-A-R-C, and I'm going to go into what each of these letters stands for in our SPARC method.

But we at Admissionado think that this method is really helpful for students and you can apply it to or you can use it in any sort of school that you find to not just for Ivy League's or whatever top ranked schools are looking at, but you have to remember that every application process for every college has a little bit of a competitive element to it.

And so maximize all the different parts of your application that show how you're destined for future success. We think that you can ask yourself some of the questions and remember the elements that we have as part of the spark framework, and that you present yourself the most effectively to admissions offices.


Venkat  19:15  [Introducing “SPARC” - A Method to showcase an Applicant’s Strengths]

So, So what is SPARC, S-P-A-R-C, what do they stand for?

Athena  19:22

Right, so I'll go through each one by one and show some examples of how these play out. So, first letter

S stands for ‘seize” as in seize the day or Carpe Diem as they say in my favorite language Latin.

P stands for pursues as in pursuing an opportunity pursuing challenges;

A is for asks so like someone asking questions, being intellectually curious;

R is for risks. So someone who takes risks and is not afraid of them and,

C is creates. So someone who creates opportunity creates a sort of vision for whatever they're doing and tries to implement that.

Athena  20:10  [“S”]

So I'll start with S and seizing the day.

So when we talk about seizing the day, we're really talking about someone who shows elements of leadership, someone who takes initiative and takes on responsibility, even if it's not the most convenient.

So, a lot, excuse me, a lot of times when people think about leadership, they say, Okay, I need to collect all of the leadership trophies, right, I need to be president, I need to be the captain of this, I need to be the leader of every single club that I'm in, and that will show colleges that I know how to seize the day. Actually, the opposite of what you want to do.

So colleges are looking for substance over a self promotion, and wants to see students who, whatever position they might have, or even if they don't have a formal position, they are taking the responsibility in the moment, they are trying to find a way to lead a group and sort of corral them towards a bigger goal.

Athena  21:14  

Use an example to back this up. So say you have student A, who, the class president, the prefect, maybe the captain of the golf team, and vice president, Secretary and every single club in school.

However, when you ask them when you kind of peel back the layers, and you ask them, okay, so what did you do in all of those roles, they're not able to really talk about it, it's just a title.

Athena  21:40  

Now take the student be, maybe student B is the class Vice President, and maybe here are the secretary of another club. But when they were class, Vice President, they are actually the one leading all the meetings, they organized, different projects that helped make the school and the community a better place. And they are the ones that when a faculty member or a classmate talks about someone who had an impact there, the person that those people will mention, and maybe in their other role as a secretary of another club, maybe they actually organize some projects as well, or they, they saw that there was a problem going on, and they figured out a way for the club to help solve that thing.

So when you think about student A versus student B, student B might not have as many titles, but they're able to talk about what they actually did, in the positions that they had.

So again, it's not about the number of titles, the number of different Captainships you have, it's really about how you're able to explain what you did and how you lead others, how you took on that responsibility.

Athena 22:49  

So if you're following along, I'd like for you to make a table, have S, P, A, R, C sort of written out. And under S, seizes, I'd like for the listeners to think about their own leadership style, how they like to lead others.

And also to think about a time that maybe they had to step up and take responsibility for something and make the situation better, and what that experience was like.

So that's, I think, a good sort of first way to brainstorm.

Athena  23:25  [“P”]

Next one P pursues.

So think about someone who is dogged in going after excellence, and going after excellence for the sake of being excellent, even when that route is harder.

So what I mean to say is that, you know, a lot of times, take student A again, student A who's the captain, president of everything, maybe you spent a, it also got the best grades in the school. But when you look at their transcript, when you look at their report card, you see that they actually took classes that were not at the hardest level level offered by the school.

So if the school offered, you know, IB, HL classes, or AP classes, or you know, a certain number of A levels, maybe they chose the classes that they were most likely to get an A in and not the ones that they actually were interested in, because they wanted to keep up their GPA.

Compare that to student B, who really cares about math, let's say and though they might not be the best at math, maybe they had a, you know, a B instead of an A grade in one of their classes, but they overall had this trajectory of getting better and better in their courses. When their teachers talk about their performance in the class. They mentioned how student B really asked a lot of questions and try to understand the material really well and that they show this growth in their learning journey. And in the end, we're able to get an A, because they understood how to study for the material and to get better.

 Think about what colleges are looking for, right? Student B looks so much more attractive, because they're already having this evidence that when they're faced with a challenging subject, they're still going for it.

They're not saying no, because they just want to keep up their GPA, they actually really care about learning. So when you think about that kind of attitude, not not just in class, but also in your extracurriculars.

You know, are you someone that again, are you just going for the positions, the titles, the leadership? Or are you going for some bigger goal? Because you know that that's the right thing to do. And that's the best of what you can show.

So that's the sort of attitude that we're talking about in Pursues.

Athena  25:54  

So again, going back to the table listeners, Oh, I'd like for you under P, pursues, to think about a time you had to choose the difficult over, the more difficult over the easier path. Even if it's something in class, maybe you chose the harder problem set instead of the easier one.

And also think about the areas that you have improved in most since the beginning of high school.

I think that a lot of times the conversations we have, really focus on, you know, how what things are you the best in with this sort of implication that you always been the best at it all the time.

And we all know that that is not true, everyone has grown in something. And a lot of times that journey is way more interesting than the ones where you have always been the top all the time.

So think about those areas you've been proved in since the beginning of high school. And that can help form the story for you as the pursuer of excellence.

Athena  26:54  [“A”]

Three more to go.

So, the next one A is asks.

So we're talking about someone who asks questions and seeks answers. In short, someone who is not just okay with the status quo.

So this is, we're looking for the kind of person who, when they are when they learn about a topic and their textbook, in class that day, maybe they're going to go home, and because that topic just sounds really interesting to you, then they look a little bit more on Wikipedia, they do a bit of a Google search. And then as they keep discovering more and more, maybe they take an online class to learn more about the subject.

Maybe they pursue excellence through an extracurricular that they can join relating to the subject. So it's someone who, because of their curiosity, and because of their ability to ask questions, and they then that takes them on, again, a more interesting journey of self discovery, and that helps them to a place in their intellectual growth that they would not have achieved otherwise.

So I'll go back to our friends, student A and student B again. So, you know, think about student a, student a thinks they're doing well in this whole thing, right? They have all those leadership titles I talked about, they have that 4.0 GPA, even though it's a little bit suspect, as I mentioned.

So the thing about student A is, you know, maybe student A, is doing well in all of their classes, because they follow the structure that they have been given. So they follow directions, completely. They don't have a lot whenever a teacher asks, Does anyone have any questions? They're always on mute on zoom. Right?


So and I'm not saying to any listener out here that you should not follow directions, you should follow directions to some degree.

But it's also, you know, what are you doing beyond that? Right? How are you, What are you interested in learning about? And when you say that you're interested in that thing? How do you then pursue that interest? Right? How do you follow up on that?

So in contrast to student A, student B, our friends student B, because they, let's say they're taking a Spanish class, they've never taken Spanish, the Spanish language classes before, they want to learn this language because they saw Spain on a YouTube video and thought it's not interesting. And so now they're in this class.

And maybe they start out with not that great a grade, but because they're just interested in learning Spanish. You know, they're looking up, there, they're watching TV shows in Spanish now. They are listening to podcasts. They are, they find a conversation partner or a pen pal. They learn about Spanish culture and other ways. They stay after class and ask the teacher questions about this and try to practice talking more.

So student B, even though they might not already be the best. That's because they're just really interested in the topic. They they try to go out and learn more. So that's the kind of attitude that we're looking for in the asker.

Athena  30:07  

So go back to your table now.

And so the questions that we have for you in this section is to think about a time that you learn something, you know, learn an idea, or learned about a topic, and then you questioned what was said.

And think about that thought process, you know, what was that thought process that you went through as you were questioning that thing? And what was the outcome of that thought process?

And then the other question to think about is, what is an idea that engages you? If someone said, Okay, well, what's an interesting fact that you can share or, you know, something that you've, you've learned about recently that you want to learn more about? What is that thing? Tell us about it and tell us why.

And that can help show the attitude of the asker.

Venkat  31:00  

Here is Joey Fritz, a graduate of Amherst College.

Joey Fritz  31:06  [Tennis, Languages were my passion growing up]

How did I get into tennis?

Tennis I, it was so long ago...When I was little, my, my parents just kind of they played every sport with me.

And so, and I was always a bit of a perfectionist, I guess, always wanted to be the best at whatever I did. And I knew in order to do that, I had to pick one.

So when I think I was around nine or 10 years old, I liked soccer and tennis the best, but I thought I was better at tennis. And so I decided just to focus on tennis.

And from there, I started traveling around the country, starting at age 10, just playing tournament, and really focusing on that, a couple hours every day, just training.

And then so, in high school, obviously, my schedule was pretty tight, I had school from about 8:00 to 3:30, and then tennis from four to six, four to seven, and then come home, dinner, homework, sleep, do it again.

So those were my main really activities. I played, I did play piano, I continue to try and stay diverse. I played piano, throughout high school, and I, I doubled up on languages in high school. So I took two languages, because that was always my passion, was learning languages.

And so I took French and Spanish, so those were my main interests, but tennis really dominated.

Athena  32:25  [“R”]

The next one is R for risk.

So just to recap, we have S for seize, P for pursue, A for ask. And now we're at R for risk.

So the person who is a risker, someone who takes risks. What we mean here is that in this sort of this all sort of kind of blends together in some way. But we're talking about resilience here, someone who is not scared of the fact who has accepted that they are imperfect, and they are not necessarily trying to be the most perfect in everything.

But instead they've taken risks, they've tried things where they have had a chance of failing. And they figured out a way around it or you know, they failed. And then they overcame that and, and learned something from that experience.

And the reason that this is really important is because there are so many applicants nowadays who try to present themselves as having no flaws, right? There's sort of, I won't say, dramatizing, that's a bit, you know, harsh, but maybe they're presenting things in such a way that they want to cover up any mistakes or gaps they have had along the way.

And I think that, you know, there, there are ways to do this. But you don't want to necessarily shy away from any time, from talking about times, you may have failed and grown. Because again, sometimes that's more interesting story than the time that you were just excellent, all the way through and through.

Athena  33:54  

So student A and student B, we're bringing them back.

So let's say that student A is a basketball player. And maybe they are interested in sports in general. But because they know that they're good at basketball, they've been on the team for a long time. They've been playing since they were five, and they've achieved some success. They've always been picked for the varsity team. And they keep playing. But they don't try any other sports because they want to stay in their lane and they don't want to take the risk that they maybe will spend time on another sport and then not do well.

Let's take student B, so maybe student B is a maybe, he's also a pretty solid basketball player. But student B thinks Okay, well I enjoy athletics. I enjoy sports. So what if I try this other sport like squash or cricket, or tennis, or maybe they try a number of sports, and maybe they're not that great at any of them. Or maybe they're not that great at some of them but they've tried and they've learned something about themselves In the process.

Maybe they've actually been able to learn how to be a better basketball player from some other skill they picked up in another sport. Maybe they learned how to work better with a team or how to focus more mentally, if they're trying to sell a solitary sport as opposed to a team one, who knows.

But this idea that you can take a risk and put yourself out there, even when it's not the most convenient for you, that can show a kind of resilience and a willingness to explore that, you know, that can set you apart from other applicants.

Athena  35:37  

So back to the table.

So if you're listening, I'd like for you to ask yourself to respond to these questions. I'd like to think about a time that you failed. And in that time that you failed how you've now grown from that, because remember, I think I want to emphasize that it's not just about that you failed, and you're revealing that you're imperfect schools do want to know how you mature and how you you've developed from that, there's always a journey of growth that you need to show. So don't stop at the I failed, and I accept that I failed. But really think about the lessons you've learned from that experience.

And maybe another sort of twist on this is to think about a time that you've had to defend an unpopular opinion, or unpopular decision. And the reason that I want to ask that is because, you know, I think colleges are looking for students who will wrestle with a lot of different intellectual sort of ways of thinking a lot of different schools of thought. So, you know, in order to really have those all in mind and think about them rationally, you need to be able to not just, you know, go with whatever everyone else is thinking about, but sometimes you'll have to defend something that's unpopular, so you can really understand it.

And so this prompt can help you think about a time that you're already doing that, or have already done that during your high school career.

Athena  37:04  [“C”]

And so we're finally to the last letter, I know that this is a lot to think about. But trust that this will all help you present yourself the best way you can.

So the final letter, C is a creates, C for creates.

And so what we're talking about here with a creator is someone who is resourceful. Someone who is, let's say solutions oriented, or has a vision, to whatever they're doing.

 And here's how this all ties together. So I'll bring back student A and student B, one final time, a lot during this podcast.

So let's take student A. So let's say that student a and student B have both, they're both charged with running a community service project for one of their clubs. So student A has this brilliant idea to do a beach cleanup, let's say. Because student a and student B they both live near the beach, they really care about the beach and the environment. And they want to get you know, people to join this beach.

So say student A when, when he's trying to do the beach cleanup, you know, maybe he says okay, I'll, I'm going to text everyone, all my classmates who join us beach cleanup, and then we're all going to join on a Saturday, and that's what we're gonna do. But then maybe, maybe it rains on that Saturday. Maybe he texts everybody and no one responds, really sorry, today. And so what a student A do student A says, Okay, I guess no one's really interested in this project. So we can't do it.

So in contrast, let's think about student B. Maybe student B also really likes his beach cleanup idea. And maybe he also starts with texting everyone saying we're going to have it on this day. But maybe when it doesn't work out, instead of just giving up what student B says is okay, well, maybe that way of doing things didn't work.

So instead of just settling for the first know that I got, I'm going to think, okay, what's a better way to recruit people so that they're interested in joining this beach cleanup. Maybe it rained on that Saturday, though, I'll have it on a different day, or I'll have a number of alternative dates so that we can have this and maybe shouldn't be even goes above and beyond and says, Wow, a beach cleanup is a great idea. But to make it really impactful. We shouldn't just do it once. Maybe we should have something every month. And I'll maybe make sure to take pictures each time, so people can see how this is a student, of you know, a community effort. It's not just me doing this beach cleanups on myself.

So there's a little bit even in something like that a beach cleanup. We're already seeing a difference in attitude around how to hold a successful one and a difference in how people respond to the failure or to being told no.

And you can see how, you know this creator attitude kind of overlaps with being a risk taker.

A risker, right, of being a pursuer, of being an asker.

But the difference here is that you have this overall vision that you're able to come up with, and that you're able to find a way to get to no matter what.

Athena  40:13  

So, I'd like for the students following along, if you're, if you've been filling out your table very diligently, which I hope you have, the questions for this section are- I'd like for you to think about the time you were told that something couldn't happen. But you instead, you saw an opportunity and, and made something happen. So think about a situation like that.

Or In a similar vein, you know, think about a time you had a problem, and you're able to have a fresh take on that problem.

So I think that if you're able to answer those questions, then that can help you spin a story about a vision that you had for something and to show your resourcefulness in the face of odds.

Athena  41:01  

So, if you, so just to recap what we went over, we had SPARC, so S is for seizes, P is for pursues, A is for asker, R is for risk, and C is for creates.

And I hope that you have a really big table filled out with lots of different stories for each of these factors.

Venkat  41:28  

No, this is, this is great. You know, the one thing I learned is that B is better than A.

Student B...

Athena  41:38  

A, student A, has, hasn't used the SPARC method yet. So once student A implements the SPARC method, [they] will be able to help student A achieve, you know, their potential and do things a little bit differently than they're doing right now.

Venkat  41:57  [How Admissions Officers evaluate each Application?]

So this is, this is awesome. So this is a way of looking at a student and trying to sort of provide a framework for them to think about that application. Now, how do the admissions officers look at the application? And how are they able to sort of extract or infer these attributes?

Athena  42:21  

So I think that the reason, so again, going back to how people wrongly Think about this, when they say oh, it's just about the grades, test scores, extracurriculars, leadership, etc, etc, etc.

Those different factors, those different factors that are mentioned in your application, through the list of activities that you send to the school, the personal statement that you write the recommendations that your teachers provide, through your transcript, write your test scores, all of those things contribute to this larger picture of how you're showing a SPARC.

So, you know, it's not that admissions committees are, you know, using the SPARC method in the same exact way necessarily, but they are looking for, through these different explicitly communicated materials that you provide them.

And then through sort of what they read between the lines through the sort of gut feeling that they get from your application.

This is how they determine when, okay, when you have a candidate, like a bunch of candidates, maybe 10, or 20, that all kind of look very similar to one another on paper, you know, which is the one that really stands out from all of them.

So think of every sort of explicit component of your application as a chance to maximize and to show the ad calm, or to maximize the chance for the ADCom to be your champion, right?

Because if you're able to sort of transmit and signal these qualities of being someone who sees is right, who pursues who asked questions, who risks it all, some time to create something new when others can't.

If you're able to show all of that to the admissions committee, then they're gonna say, oh, okay, when this person comes to our school, they're going to take advantage of all the resources here, they're going to, you know, take the classes, take different classes, explore, they're going to help build a community. And when they graduate, they're going to be successful alumni, right, Going back to the future success that they're looking for. And they're going to tribute to our school and contribute to the world at large.

So by using the SPARC method that can help you reflect on the ways that you've been showing this present that better to the admissions committee, and then eventually that will show them okay, this student

This is the one with the SPARC, with the potential for future success.

So yeah, I think that, the, the next step here, is to remember well first I want to say remember that this spark method can help you in any application for any school that you're applying to, because again, all schools are looking for this potential for future success.

Athena  45:07  

And I think the best thing to do now is to maybe if you've been following along with creating the spark table, flush out some of your answers to these questions, and, you know, create what your profile looks like using the spark method.

And at the end of this podcast, we'll have instructions for what to do with that.

Venkat  45:29  

Here’s Cornell LeSane, Vice Provost Enrollment at The College of Holy Cross. Cornell talks about spotting students with potential, but whose high school years may not do justice to them. He calls them “diamonds in the rough”.

Cornell LeSane  45:45

But you know, there are those students who truly take classes because they love learning. So you'll see a student in some cases, taking the most challenging classes available. And getting B's and B's is beyond I mean, they're not they're not bad. They're not bad grade. Whereas they could say, you know, let me take an easier class and get an A, and maybe I'll look stronger overall. And certainly, that that's certainly one aspect.

In other cases, you get a student who, for whatever reason, maybe their first year in high school, there was just a transition phase to get into high school and didn't do as well.

You know, maybe junior year, they, they, had a rough, you know, semester because the stuff going on at home or, or, in some cases, they, they stretch themselves too thin.

Yeah, there are students listening, they know exactly what I'm talking about. You talk to some of these kids. And they say, Well, I'm taking X number of, you know, IB or advanced classes. I'm also involved in this sport, I'm also involved in five, five clubs, and you think, when are you sleeping?

And so you get those students who maybe extend themselves a little too much. And once they're in it, you know, and realize, Oh, I'm not keeping up, it's too late. And so you feel bad for those dudes because their intentions are good.

They're they're doing it because this is what institutions are asking them to do.

But in some cases, I tell them, don't compare yourself to your peers. If you're if you're heavily involved outside of the classroom, and your peers may not be, you know it, maybe there's some, some different balancing you need to do with the level of rigor in your classes because you've already got a full plate.

Venkat  47:30

Hi again!

Hope you liked Segment 1 of the Podcast Series and found it useful.

In this Segment, we covered

  • What US Colleges are looking for in their applicants;
  • What makes a “great” applicant?

As mentioned earlier, based on this Segment we have assignments on Profile and SPARC for students in the 11th grade. You can get our Counselors feedback on your assignments.

Venkat  48:00  [Call to Action - Subscribe for Assignments]

Now, You have to Subscribe to get the assignments.

It’s easy To Subscribe.

Just email to podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io] with the Subject: Assignments.

We will send you an email with instructions on the assignments.

And Here’s a great deal for you:

Submit your Completed Assignments before our next Segment is published,

AND you will get a FREE review by Our Counselors.

So, hurry!

Thank you so much for listening to our podcast today.

Our February Segment will be on Summer Planning and Extracurriculars & the

March Segment on College Application Strategy. So stay tuned.

Venkat  48:50

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

US Colleges, College Admissions, Harvard University, Yale University, University of Georgia, Amherst College, MIT, University of California Santa Barbara, University of California, Extracurricular, International Students, SPARC, Seizes, Pursues, Asker, Risker, Creates, Assignments, SAT, ACT, AP, Advanced Placement.

Is College in US for you?