Featured image from treasurers.org
It’s all about personality
It’s one of the oldest dichotomies in the book. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Or, as BoJack Horseman might put it, are you a Zöe or a Zelda? It’s a common way to describe people because it relates to how we interact with others, which is an element of our personalities we feel compelled to convey in our college applications.
We want our prospective schools to know how positively we’re going to relate to our peers, how likely we are to join organizations and contribute actively to campus life, how engaged we will be in our classes, and how well we’ll come across to potential future employers once we graduate and begin to represent our university or college’s name out in the world.
Sometimes it might seem like society favors the extrovert, the go-getter, the entrepreneur. And other times it might seem like the quiet thinker, the studious introvert, has the advantage. (Not that all extroverts are successful businesspeople or that all introverts are particularly diligent in their studies.)
The truth is that, of course, both of these temperaments bring value both to those who possess them and the people around them. So the first step is to trust that college admissions committees know this. They know that people come in different flavors, and they want a student body with a unique assortment of strengths and weaknesses. They don’t want all introverts or extroverts, all engineers or drama students, all Type A or Type B personalities. A healthy mixture of both is what helps groups and individuals thrive.
You might not identify with either the introvert or extrovert label, and might instead place yourself nearer to the middle of the spectrum. This just means that you can learn from both introverted and extroverted strategies for success and determine what works for you out of a wider selection of options.
For an introvert, the college application process might have a more personal or individualistic feel. Maybe as an introvert, you didn’t feel the need to get involved in many team sports or large organizations. But maybe you were a regular contributor to the school newspaper or won awards in individual sports like track or swimming.
It’s okay to highlight your strengths even if they don’t necessarily make you look like the biggest team player. But you should also make note of it as a possible point for improvement, and investigate how you might portray yourself as someone who would be an asset to any group, even if you’re not someone who seeks out groups all that much in general.
Maybe, as an introverted person, you were involved in group activities, whether because you wanted to or because you felt you had to, but you never did anything particularly noteworthy as a part of them. You might not have been the team captain of your volleyball team or scored particularly well in debate.
Regardless, it’s still very important that you participated in these activities, especially if it was difficult for you or you would have preferred to stay home and study. You can reflect on your involvement in team activities and how that interacted with your personality, and include some of your reflections in your essay as a way to portray yourself as a well-rounded, engaged student.
If you were more extroverted in high school, maybe you find that your skill set is more interpersonal than academic. Or maybe you were a jack of all trades but a master of none, or perhaps you took one leadership role so seriously that it’s pretty much the only extracurricular experience you have.
There are challenges and rewards to any temperament, and these are just a few. If you’re an extrovert, use strengths like expressiveness and sociability to write an engaging and personal essay. Don’t just talk about your accomplishments; let your personality radiate through the way you talk about your passions.
If you’re having trouble choosing between a number of extracurriculars to include, try to think of it from a few different angles. Which activities made you feel most fulfilled and why? Maybe those are the ones you should include.
Or if you notice that some of your involvements followed similar trends—maybe you were captain of the Mathletes, treasurer for National Honor Society, and tutored pre-calculus students on Fridays—include them together so that the admissions committee can have a clear picture of where your strengths and passions lie.
Owning up to who you are, though, is the most important step. Only then can you choose what to show and how. You shouldn’t try to bend the truth too much on your college applications, but you can definitely act with an aim toward showcasing your well-roundedness and highlighting aspects of your personality that might not otherwise be visible.
There is one section of the Common Application that I, who identified as more introverted in high school, found particularly nerve-wracking. It might be a little surprising, since to a lot of my friends it seemed inconsequential. In the section where you’re asked to list your extracurricular activities in high school, there’s another prompt asking whether you would like to be involved in that activity in college as well.
I was terrified of this question. I thought that if I marked “yes,” they would track me down during my freshman year and expel me if I hadn’t made good on the intentions I’d listed in my application. At the same time, though, I thought that not marking “yes” would make them less likely to accept me.
I could foresee involvement in any of the activities on my application, but obviously not all of them, as there were around ten major activities listed there. For a while I agonized over which, if any, to mark “yes” for, making a mountain out of what really should have been a molehill of a decision.
After a while I cooled off and realized this. I realized that there was no way they could check up on everyone and make sure they were abiding by the “promises” they’d made in their applications.
I also realized one of the most important lessons in college applications: the aim of the question is to figure out if I’m open and willing to grow. They weren’t asking for a commitment to three varsity sports, the marching band, the debate club, the yearbook, and two honor societies; they just wanted to know that I was excited to spread my wings at their school, through whatever activities interested me the most.
Growth isn’t a quality of just introverts or extroverts. Every person can and will grow over the course of their life. College is a time when you do more growing than ever before, and how you take advantage of that time will help determine your path later in life.
Your prospective schools know this. They want to see in your application that you know your own strengths and your own personality, and that you’re willing to hone those strengths. They want to know that you’re willing to use your personality, whether it’s introverted, extroverted, or somewhere in between, as a tool to achieve your goals.
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