Lewis Caralla is the head strength and conditioning coach for Georgia Tech Football. Many days, after practice, he records videos for his players that start with, “Hey, guys. Got a message.” While these are brief, they are always poignant, passionate, and indicative of his deep love for his players—reflective of his desire to see them challenged and constantly improving.
Recently, he started one of these videos with, “I think, in the end, we are all going to be defined by one sentence.” Well…that got my attention. He went on to ask how people in your life would describe you. What is the “first thing that comes to mind about you?”
Over the last two weeks, I’ve taken some time to think about that concept and wrestle with how people around me would answer the question. What do my kids say to their friends about me? How do my parents, colleagues, or neighbors quickly describe and summarize who I am? What are the first words, common phrases, and connecting themes?
At any stage of life, this is a convicting and important concept.
What do you want that sentence to be?
What is it right now?
Where are the gaps between ideal and current?
If you are feeling really bold, ask the people in your life that you love, respect, and trust to share their summary sentence with you.
Got a Message.
When most admission officers, high school counselors, or independent consultants talk about applying to college, they break down the application into various segments. We have done that on our blog and podcast as well. It works well for purposes of simplicity and digestibility, so you won’t have to search online long to find pieces like, “Five Excellent Essay Tips,” “Acing the Interview,” or “Excelling in Extra-curriculars!”
And we know that most students approach their application this way too. “Ok. I’m going to go ahead and get my Activities section done this week, and then I’ll move on to the Supplementary Questions next week.” Hey, good on you. I love the time management (just try to avoid “next week” ending with an 11:59 p.m. submission on deadline day).
Don’t misunderstand me. It is important to step away from your work a few times before submitting in order to either have others give you feedback, or for you to gain perspective and catch things you might not see in your first round of working through the prompts or questions. However, continually talking about the application in this fragmented fashion is misleading, because at schools receiving far more applications from incredibly talented students than they have spots available, that is not how they’re ultimately discussed, nor is that how admission decisions are made.
I understand movies about college admission will make it seem like these pensive and stoic deans are dressed up, wearing spectacles, and sitting around oaken (a word typically reserved only for admission review and Lord of the Rings) tables, debating for hours the merits of each student who has applied to their prestigious university that year. However, due to the speed with which they’re reading, the volume of applications they are reviewing, and the compressed timeline for making decisions, the notes, conversations, and exchanges of admission officers are more like a Coach Caralla video- informative, personal, passionate, and incredibly succinct.
The question then is after one of these folks reviews your transcript, reads your responses to essays or short–answer questions, considers the context of your community, family and school, evaluates your activities, and looks over your recommendation letters, what will their sentence be in summarizing your application– and how it fits into the larger applicant pool?
And, back to the original question, “What do you want your sentence to be?”
If you are a rising senior, my sincere hope is you will make this a constant question in your college admission search and selection experience.
What do you want your sentence to be will help guide and lead you as you research and ultimately apply to colleges. It will serve as a signpost for articulating your hopes and dreams and determining if that campus environment and community is a good match.
What do you want your sentence to be will help you select an essay topic from the various prompts. Students are always asking “which one” is best or “which one” should I choose? Well, let’s flip that. Which one helps you communicate your sentence?
What do you want your sentence to be will help you know when you are done. Too often students struggle to submit their application because they are either nervous, or legitimately think that one more round of proofing or editing must be done. At some point, that is an exercise in futility.
Instead, read over your application like an admission counselor would- cover to cover. And then ask your touchstone question—what will their one sentence summary be?
Will they include that you pushed and challenged yourself in the courses that were available in your school?
Will they include that you were involved, had an impact on those around you, and influenced people positively? Will they answer that you will be missed by your school or community or family when you graduate?
Will they include that they have a better sense of who you are and what you value from your writing? Essentially, that is what admission folks mean when they say, “we just want to hear your voice” or advise you to“be authentic.”
What do you want your sentence to be will help you wait. Clearly, one of the hardest parts of the admission experience for students is waiting on a result. After all of the hard work, preparation, consideration, and consternation, you send your application into the black hole of the admission office. If you are confident that your sentence is truly yours, you will have solace in that silence.
What do you want your sentence to be will help you handle those admission decisions. We’ve written extensively about this in the past, and while those thousands of words are still accurate and valuable, the bottom line is this—if you are confident that your application accurately and compellingly communicated your sentence, then you will be able to keep perspective regardless of the results.
Coach Caralla’s video concluded with this, “If you want a defining sentence that matters to you one day, live the one you want.” Bam!
As you work on your applications, wait for decisions, and ultimately make your final college choice, that’s the mentality I hope you will adopt. It will help you eliminate options, tune out unhelpful voices, focus on what truly matters to you, and maintain peace, perspective, and sanity in the year ahead.
Live your sentence well, friends.