What I learned at the New York Times Symposium on College Admissions and Preparation

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By Laurel Watts

I spent Saturday in a packed auditorium at the New York Times Building and heard from five panels about the best way to go about applying to college.   The panel participants gave thoughtful, detailed advice to an audience that appeared to be 75% parents and 25% students

Know thyself

The overall takeaway was “know thyself.”  Or, as Sarah Meyers McGinty said, ask yourself, “How do I roll?”

In order to choose a college that is a good “fit,” you need to know who you are and what you are interested in.  Amy Jarich, Admissions, Berkeley

To write a compelling college essay in your authentic voice, you need to reflect on yourself -- what personality trait you would like to convey and what story in your life reveals that trait.  Sarah Myers McGinty, Education researcher and author.

Or conversely, what interesting story do you have to tell and how does that story reveal your thinking, writing skill, personality?  Bruce Weber, New York Times.

College rankings are meaningless, unless the criteria by which they are ranked are important criteria to you.  Jordan Goldman, founder of Unigo.

Finally, “College is a transformative experience, so ask “How do I want to be different?”  Alexander McCormick, Director, Nat’l Survey on Student Engagement.

All good.  But, at 15 or 16 years old, how do you know yourself?  Where do you start?  

Sarah Myers McGinty suggested that students begin in ninth grade to stockpile potential material -- a list of things done in the community, in their context.  She suggested that students keep a file on the computer “where you can throw stuff.  Look into your life, if you understand this moment or commitment, you can understand me.” Evan Cranston, a recent Brown graduate said, “I wish I had the advice of keeping a list of the really cool things I did in my life.”

As my kids, Skye and Charlie, add materials to their trovvit accounts, a story emerges.  Actually, several possible stories emerge from their trovvit records organized into narratives.  A record of an award won.  A record of a weekly practice, an annual puppet parade, a game lost, a tough hike, a poetry collection.   Their “stockpile” on trovvit will serve them well in only a few years . . .