I still remember sitting down to write my college essay— ironic that now I am here to help from the perspective of schools! The hardest part of the whole ordeal was brainstorming what to write about. I had never won an award. Nothing bad had ever happened to me. I was the third-generation to attend college, and I grew up with what I considered a pretty vanilla life. At least, that’s how I saw it at the time.
You can sell something completely regular if you tell its story right
Of course, at this point, my mother—the English teacher and former college admissions council member— had been hungrily circling. This is one of those moments that I want to kick my younger self because at this moment my teenage parent-resisting-self was rolling my eyes as a key life lesson flew over my head. In some capacity, I did appreciate the advice because I remember her stating that the essays she recalled from students and applicants were the ones that actually narrated a seemingly ordinary story. These ones were good and resonated because they were specific, almost comedic, everyday plots that, with nuance and honesty, captured the essence of what it means to be human most of the time. A story that stars the unrecognized consumers of Hollywood and proves that the small, unappreciated moments in our lives are important and heroic.
The Art of Attracting People and Resonating With Them
As someone who grew up with a touch of social anxiety, I had an odd appreciation for my really great, smooth, no-stutter interactions. In college, I noticed, as I began to spread my social wings, that not only was I not as nervous about introductions, but people were actually drawn to me. Now, this was interesting, so I couldn’t help but reflect on what had changed.
This is the theory: I, to this day, believe in the power of honesty and owning your humanness. What the centuries past had convinced us of was that everyone should strive for the uniform image of perfection. However, people now appreciate authenticity. In a world where it is increasingly easier to put on a different face and misinform, the impression of perfection is actually ugly and unreliable.
I don’t mean to say this should just be applied to an essay; think of any aspect of life. Sitting down to write this was difficult. Maybe it’s my ADD or my need to reflect on everything, but to reference Michael from The Office, I started this article with no idea where I was going. I had a few memories that I felt were rooted in my head by the same idea. Somehow, through this article, I got down to what relates my college essay story to a memory I have of bonding with a coworker over pimples.
Why Waste Time Telling The Not-Newsworthy?
When I met Amanda Holdsworth, I was a junior at the University of Connecticut, and she, a mom, Michigan resident, award-winning public relations expert and CEO. Despite the fact that we were different, I was drawn to her and her mission. Her company was small, in a different part of the country, and education-related PR was something I never heard of. But, she and her mission appealed to me because of how she described her story. It instantly connected with me— one reason being how my mom was/is still a teacher.
At the time, I, naturally, was studying journalism; a side effect and fuel to my veracity. Public relations, the sculptor of truth, was a route that could easily contradict this value. However, I had always been a storyteller, narrator and listener. I had a passion for reporting, but felt that it did not fully accept my anecdotal side. Newsworthy information must be delivered in a straightforward manner. This is a rule of journalism. However, I was also drawn to the stories and features that weren’t considered news. Maybe a result of the college essay experience, but I was interested in the stories that seemed insignificant. That person or group that upon first glance looks like every other fish in the sea. As someone who felt ordinary their whole life, it was important to me that the world recognize the beauty and intricacy of each and every story.
Conveying Brand Stories
So, when I was first meeting with Amanda, I recognized this same value in her. Before starting her company, Holdsworth Communications, she had worked at universities, including the University of Michigan, and as a professor and course developer. She found herself going into the public relations and communications side of education as she became intrigued by the stories of fellow educators and her students.
Schools engineer the trajectory of each generation and the problem that Amanda understood was this: The education system in America witnesses millions of children, teens and adults pass through each year. The teaching model tends to further this sense of robotic homogeny. In a world where the educators and the educated are all the same, how can they continue with purpose and relate to their surroundings? The reality is that we all have our own complex story to tell, even if it seems like it isn’t worth recognition.
I think of my own high school story when I thought there was nothing interesting about myself that would stand out amidst college essays. My school never made me feel like a stand-out, but when I tell my experience and what defined those years—like my college essay recollection— the story is good and makes a person say, “Oh my gosh! I felt like that too!” It relates to everyone else by describing an experience so small and regular that without my voice it would seem completely uninteresting.
Working for Amanda taught me this: As a school, your brand and story represent to parents the binding of their child’s story. Up until their 20s, children’s and young adults’ development is drastic and sensitive. Studies show that their environment and experiences in these first two decades have a much more significant impact on the rest of their lives than any other years. Parents want to know that the place where their children spend a large fraction of their time is comfortable and nurturing.
All schools, school leaders, teachers, students, and parents have a story and values that have come about because of this. We do not think that there is importance in owning the small or embarrassing stories that got us to those values, but by doing so, we are able to relate to one another on the most authentic human level. Instead of telling students and parents that your school values this and that, tell a story about yourself as another human.
As I went through my college admission process, the search through sample Ivy League essays and the tour of school websites with ideal student profiles, was like a slap that left a scarlett, “you’re not important enough” on my forehead. After all, a Harvard student is excused for pimples as a trophy for their stress, right?
While I am sure the Harvard student’s acne is as genetic as their brain, it do not make me any less interesting and their stories do not diminish the value of mine. Mine is the type that makes a person cry in comradery, “me too!” My story is made of small reflections which with a candid humor relate to what it means to be a person in the 21st century. Your character is not determined by what your story is about, but rather how it is told.