It's been weeks since the Super Bowl, but I'm still thinking about Lady Gaga. I was moved by her performance and inspired by her individuality. She reminded me that being different is the very best attribute to have if we want to make an impact on our chosen path. In many ways, she is the ultimate role model for high school students applying to college.
So many of us have been guilty at some point in our lives of changing how we talk, look, dress, or act just to fit in. High school, especially, is the ultimate testing ground for this. Few truly want to stand out because standing out draws attention. And bringing attention to yourself in high school can be embarrassing, humiliating, or worse yet—alienating. Lady Gaga once admitted to feeling like a freak in high school. Blending in is the obvious, easier alternative. But it can silence creativity, individuality, and the special power born from unique thought and action.
I see this in so many students who reach out to me with questions about the college admissions process. They hear from friends and classmates what clubs they need to join and what academic interests they should pursue just to get into a certain college. The reality is that, in the admissions process and in life, following the crowd is the last thing you should ever do. You should define your own identity by taking risks and defying the unoriginal stereotype born from following the prescribed path.
Here are five ways to do this:
1. Don't join a club at school or do an activity just because everyone else is doing it. Choose something because you can't imagine your life without it. Once you find that one thing, give it all you have (after school, weekends, summer) and be determined to be transformative and make an impact that leaves a legacy lasting well beyond your time in high school.
2. If you are not a "leader" in title, find that role that fits you so well that it transcends any leadership title you could possibly attain. Published poet. Working photographer. The go-to public speaker. Film director. Shift leader at the local fast food joint. Community activist. Budding rapper. Political guru.
3. Stop counting how many hours of community service you have done. When it comes naturally, it's a lot more genuine. Do it because it means something to you. And, think outside the box about what you could do. Not everyone was made to volunteer at a soup kitchen or a hospital. But all of us were made to give back when the opportunity arises. I guarantee that when you truly give back on your own (especially when no one is looking or counting), the meaning will shine through in your college application.
4. Embrace your hair, height, voice, skin color, body, name, living situation, quirk, and every limitation that you have. These are the things that shape you. View these things as tools, lessons, and gifts. And, they also make for some powerful college essay topics when you are ready.
5. Don't pursue an academic field just because it sounds impressive. Unless you have a deep and profound reason for it, your application is going to look like everyone else's. Be bold with your academic leanings. If you want to pursue a popular major, think about exactly the aspect of that field that you want to study. Become a thought leader on that special area within the specialty—carve out your niche.
I like to think that we are all evolving, striving and becoming something more. The moment we settle, blend in, or give up, we miss an opportunity to be ourselves. I think about Lady Gaga as a high school student. What if she decided that fitting in was more important than pursuing her craft?
No matter how one defines success, it rarely rewards the individuals who follow the crowd. Students who embrace an unusual interest, hobby, or passion may not get popularity points in high school, but they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of fulfillment and success.