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The (Im)perfect Road to Stanford

By Konner Brewer and Robert LeVine

Every week, potential clients ask, “How does it work?” When we explain the holistic method of admissions, people nod their heads … before going back to their preconceived notions. However, when the admissions effort is done, the “aha” moment finally arrives.

We would like for you to understand this better before it’s all over.

When our former students explain their experiences, sometimes their different voices help make sense of the morass. This month, we present to you Konner Brewer – one of my favorite students ever – so you can understand what she learned after arriving in Palo Alto. These are her words:

How did I get into Stanford? I asked myself that every day during the summer before freshman year. I later found out that many of my classmates had been asking themselves that same question. 

During our first week of orientation, the president of Stanford got up in front of all the new freshmen and said to the auditorium full of people with imposter syndrome, “You were not a mistake. You didn't get here by accident. We looked at the whole person and chose you.”

He then went on to list some impressive attributes of my classmates that helped them stand out amongst the other applicants. “Winner of the national spelling bee, inventor of three engineering patents, Olympic gymnastics champion, national president of Mu Alpha Theta ....” The list of impressive achievements went on and on, but the thing I never heard was, "had a perfect ACT score, never got anything below an A+ in any class." Grades and scores were not all they cared about. 

I wasn't an Olympic gold medalist, I've never won a spelling bee, and I even got a B in sophomore year chemistry, yet there I was. I thought the admissions process would be highly competitive – and in all honesty, it is. I thought that to stand out, I would have to list off every achievement, every success, every obstacle I've ever overcome, and every difficulty I've faced. But in reality, they just wanted to know me. They wanted to know the things I'm proudest of, what excites me most, what my personality is like.

Stanford wanted a diversity of thinkers, people with different interests and backgrounds. There was no "cookie-cutter" student because all my classmates were different. For one of my essays, I wrote about how my favorite holiday is April Fools’ Day and how it excites me to think about clever ways to apply engineering in devising elaborate pranks to fool my friends. For that same essay, my roommate wrote about her passion for her high school softball team, while the girl across the hall wrote about how much she loves SpaceX. There is no right thing to write about, they just want to know what gets you out of bed in the morning.

With that said, I know it can still feel overwhelming. You're probably asking yourself, “what does get me out of bed in the morning?” Back when I was applying, UCA was a one-man show. Bob helped me talk through my passions, strengths and the stories I was most proud of. He helped me design an application that was able to best capture and highlight who I was. An application I was proud to send in. In the span of just one month – yes, I started in mid-November of 12th grade – I was able to complete and send out 14 applications. I highly recommend against waiting that long to start applications, but you get my point! When it was overwhelming, having a professional helped me simplify it. 

Just as no two people are exactly alike, no two Stanford students are exactly alike. Take a deep breath, reflect on the things that matter to you and the things that make you who you are, and tell your unique story because they want the whole person, the real you.

Konner is right. I just finished interviewing admissions professionals from 23 universities, big and small, private and public, highly selective and regional. They all said the same thing: be genuine, be authentic, be real. In fact, one Dean of Admissions turned her experience into a maxim not only for admissions, but for life:

“Don’t do it all right. Just do it all you.”

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com

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