By Katie, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
How do I find my thing? What is my hook?
As the college admissions landscape has evolved, these are the more common questions I am getting from students and their families. Yes, grades and test scores remain pivotal, but that’s just the first hurdle. What makes the difference between being admitted, deferred, or denied is a student distinguishing themselves uniquely — what we call being “pointy.”
I like to think about the distinctions in the admission process where this pointiness comes in as the three C’s: capable, competitive, and compelling.
- Capable students are just what they sound like — able to handle the academic rigor. Some of my colleagues and I call these “standard strong” or “solid all-around” applicants. They are great students but have no distinguishing qualities to tip the scales.
- Competitive candidates take it up a notch by excelling in the academic realm and making notable contributions to their communities. They have strong endorsements from their recommenders.
- Compelling students have a distinct point — a unique edge or mastery that sets them apart from the rest. For many elite institutions, these students are the promised land of applicants.
While each of the three C’s holds weight, being compelling is what typically moves the needle in the rigorous world of highly selective college admissions. So, how can students cultivate this edge? Essentially, pointy students possess deep mastery in a specific area and leverage their talents to influence the world around them.
As a mom, I am knee-deep in the world of Disney and Marvel, so I’ve drawn inspiration from some beloved fictional characters to help explore how you can cultivate pointiness through passion projects and mastery.
Passion Projects: Tony Stark’s Innovative Pursuits
What is a passion project? A passion project melds a student’s skills and interests to address an issue or need. It doesn’t merely showcase talent; it reveals drive, innovation, and the ability to create change, either locally or globally.
Tony Stark, the genius behind “Iron Man,” exemplifies this with his countless passion projects. Recognizing a need after being captured, Stark harnessed his engineering prowess to craft the first Iron Man suit. It wasn’t just a technological marvel — it was a solution, a statement. Like Stark, students can identify gaps or needs in their community or the wider world and channel their talents and resources into innovative projects. The key? A blend of passion, skill, and actionable outcomes.
Mastery and Dedication: Miguel’s Musical Odyssey
In the heartwarming tale of “Coco,” Miguel’s profound love for music is palpable. Despite his family’s ancestral ban on music, Miguel’s resolve remains unshaken. His journey into the Land of the Dead, all in pursuit of his musical passion, epitomizes commitment.
Such mastery isn’t solely about talent; it’s about relentless dedication, akin to a student spending endless hours perfecting a musical piece or researching a topic they’re passionate about. Like Miguel, when students display this level of dedication to their craft, it becomes evident to admissions officers that they’re not just doing it for fun or to look good for college applications — they’re devoted specialists.
Mastery as a Platform for Change: Katniss Everdeen’s Advocacy through Archery
Katniss Everdeen’s unparalleled archery skills dominate in the “Hunger Games.” Yet, her talent isn’t just for show — she leverages it to spotlight the cruel regime and inspire rebellion. Through her mastery, Katniss becomes a beacon of hope and change.
For students, this underscores the significance of using their skills as platforms for broader advocacy. A top-ranked athlete or musician can employ their visibility to champion causes they’re passionate about, turning their personal mastery into communal impact.
Okay, Now What?
Now I am not suggesting you seek out a dystopian society to hone your craft or snag a grandparent’s treasured heirloom from the ofrenda but do push yourself to consider how you can be an agent for change.
The college admissions process doesn’t simply reward the highest achievers with great grades who check the boxes for a little bit of leadership, some community service, a musical instrument, and a sport. It seeks students like Stark, Miguel, and Katniss — individuals who delve deep into their passions, hone their skills, and utilize their unique profiles to effect change.
The “pointy” student is one whose interests and skills don’t just rest at surface level but pierce through (archery pun intended) to create a tangible difference in the world around them. Whether it’s through innovative passion projects, relentless pursuit of mastery, or using your skills as platforms for advocacy, you can craft pointy profiles that resonate in the admissions process and beyond.
At IvyWise, we recognize the potential in every student. An IvyWise counselor can assist you in identifying and cultivating your interests and skills. Together, we’ll build a strategy to develop mastery in your chosen areas and guide you in aligning them with causes you’re passionate about. Let us partner with you in crafting a distinctive and impactful college application journey.