What’s your GPA? Did you take AP level courses? How did you score on your SAT? Where do you rank in your graduating class? Is your high school competitive? What about activities? Honor Society? Tell me when to stop, because I could go on all day.
College admissions is often pursued on the part of students and their parents as a checklist, where a specific set of metrics will grant admission tickets to a specific set of schools. Students today will even post their stats online for others to weigh in on their chances for admission. I won’t argue that stats are not important, but what gets lost in the discussion is that most colleges are seeking to “craft” a freshman class, not specify one based on numbers. In between the metrics, admission officers are looking to identify your passion and how you will contribute to class as a whole. College admissions, it seems, is a lot like state of college football rankings or the NCAA basketball tournament selection. Stats and computer rankings mean a lot, but at the end of the day real people are making decisions based on a team’s “body of work”.
We’re thrilled to have guest expert Jeremy Johnson, a current Princeton undergraduate, discuss the importance of bringing your “body of work” - or passion - to the college admissions process. Jeremy will be joining the discussion on ePrep in the weeks ahead to provide prospective from a current college student.
Bring Your Passion to College Admissions (transcript)
Karl Schellscheidt: Hi, I’m Karl Schellscheidt. Welcome to ePrep. I’d like to introduce a special guest today. His name is Jeremy Johnson. Got to know Jeremy recently; he’s a great guy. He’s a young Princeton guy. He grew up in the Princeton area. And while I try not to let too many people onto my site that are more handsome than me, and I apologize Don, Fred, and Seamus for that comment, Jeremy is definitely a good, solid guy with a great smile. So without further ado, here’s Jeremy Johnson.
Jeremy Johnson: Hi, my name is Jeremy Johnson, and thank you Karl for that absurd introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here on ePrep and I appreciate the opportunity.
One thing I wanted to talk about briefly was the importance of passion in the college admissions process. I think there’s a huge misconception these days among students and parents, really, that in order to be noticed and taken seriously you need to have half a dozen different extracurriculars on your application, or even more. Just because there are 10 lines there for you doesn’t mean that you need 10 different things to talk about.
The reality is that college admissions officers at elite schools are looking to craft a class. And what that means is that they don’t need just SAT scores, GPAs, what they need to know is what you’re going to do when you get to campus. How are you going to involve yourself and become a part of the student body? And the only way that they can tell that, or even start guessing, is by what your passionate about before college because chances are most people who spend a lot of time doing something, whether it’s photography or dance or music, in general are going to want to continue doing that because they’ve invested so much of themselves into it. And therefore, they look at that in the admissions office and say, “All right, we need to fill these slots. We need people who are going to be in these departments as well as in these extracurriculars and taking part in these different groups.” And the only way they can see that is by looking at what you’ve already done. So go ahead, show them what you’re passionate about and actually concentrate on it because it will then give them a much clearer idea of what you’ll bring to campus and make you a much more appealing applicant.
Karl Schellscheidt: Thanks, Jeremy. I really appreciate your thoughts and your willingness to share them here on ePrep. I want to just tell a little follow up story. I’m a first generation American. I was the first one in my family to go to college. And when I look back I think that I was a pretty strong student. I finished pretty high in my class of 150 students. I had pretty good SATs. But the thing that really made me stand out, or my application stand out, was that I was a good soccer player.
I loved playing soccer, did it a lot as a kid and really excelled, and I think that’s the thing that got me accepted to Princeton. I was always a good student and my parents could never really help me much because they didn’t speak English. And so I pretty much did everything on my own and all they ever told me growing up was, “You can’t play soccer unless your grades are good.” So I made sure my grades were good, was able to play soccer, and that again was the thing that got me into Princeton, I think.
So then I got to Princeton. I was feeling pretty smart. I had gotten into one of the best schools in the country and I didn’t really find out what smart was until I got to Princeton. So the story goes like this, where I was at the top of my class in high school, I get to Princeton and I am just a fish out of water in some ways. I had a freshman year roommate who thought that his freshman year in college was easier than his senior year in private school. And I was completely overwhelmed and so kind of muddled through the first semester.
And my parents were a little concerned. They’re like, “Listen, you did really well, had high grades your whole life. What’s going on? Is something wrong?”
And I tried to explain to my parents, I said, “Listen, I’m taking a chemistry class and I’m taking a biology class and I’m taking this, that, and the other thing. But what you have to understand, Mom and Dad, is this, that I spent a lot of my time as a kid playing soccer. It was the thing that I was really passionate about. And because of that, I’m one of the best 11 soccer players on Princeton’s campus. I mean, if you take the student body of 4500 kids, I’m in the top 11 for soccer. And so if you picked someone randomly out of the student body and put them on the soccer field with me, I would crush them. I would just absolutely crush them. It wouldn’t even be a contest.”
And so what I tried to explain to them was when I’m sitting in biology class, I’m sitting in a classroom with kids who are on the varsity biology team. And what that means is they had the same passion for biology that I had in soccer and that was the thing that got them into Princeton. Unfortunately for me, they didn’t have to compete with me in soccer, but I did have to compete with them academically.
Just to reinforce Jeremy’s point that when you get to college you’re going to find yourself among a different group of kids. These are kids who have found a passion in their lives and are excelling at it. And remember that it doesn’t matter what course you take, you are going to find kids in those courses that have really made that subject area their thing, and it’s really hard to compete with kids like that, the same way it would be hard for them to compete with me on the soccer field.
I think when I explained it to my parents in those terms they kind of understood. They cut me a break. I wound up muddling through the first couple years but by the end I felt like I had caught up and actually did really well junior and senior year and on my senior thesis. So it was a struggle the first couple years but I stuck with it, made it through.
I think what colleges are really looking for are kids who have a passion for something. So don’t force yourself into something because you think it might help you get admitted. Figure out what your passion is and just throw yourself in and be the best that you can.
A little side story about Jeremy that he probably didn’t tell you is this, that he’s a very passionate guy; it’s one of the reasons why I had him on to do this podcast. And he’s in Princeton’s class of 2007 but he’s not graduating this year in 2007. He is so passionate about college admissions that he’s taking some time off from school to follow his heart and he’s founding a company that’s going to be launched pretty soon. And again, I really appreciate his time here and I hope he continues to follow his passion because I think he will make a big difference in the lives of a lot of kids.