Chasing Perfect

Posted by Shannon Freeborn on 9/2/2021 12:35:00 PM

For some students, the pursuit of “perfect” permeates many aspects of their lives, from academics to athletics to curating the ideal Instagram post. Not only is this mindset hard to sustain, it often keeps students from being fully present or feeling completely satisfied. Chasing perfection can be particularly frustrating in the context of college admissions.

Students often believe there are “perfect” activities or “perfect” GPAs and classes needed to get into a specific college. As a result, they mistakenly think they can gain admission if they do all the “right” things. Yet, the very mindset of “if I do all these things, I should get in” is not what the college application process is about. 

In the world of college admissions, just like in life, perfect doesn’t exist. There are no “perfect” activities. There is no “perfect” combination of rigor, GPA, and test scores that will guarantee you admission to your dream school.  

According to Christina Lopez, Dean of Enrollment Management at Barnard, “There are incredible applicants, but there are no perfect applicants, just like there are no perfect people. Within every applicant, some aspects are great fits for the institution and others are not.”

The reason for this? What each college is looking for is nuanced. While all schools look for great fits based on their admissions needs, institutional priorities, and mission statement, each school has admission priorities that vary year to year. For instance, in any given year, a college may be looking for a cellist, a classics major, or a game designer—there is no way to know.  

As a result, trying to craft yourself into a “perfect” college applicant will not work (and will likely be counterproductive to what you are trying to accomplish). According to Mike Devlin, Director of Admissions at Stanford, “For many, perfection means checking off all the boxes they think colleges want and striving to be perfect at these pieces. And that is just not a healthy way to be. Sadly, it can also hinder your chances at admission because you should explore what you are passionate about and what you want to do and engage in those things. That is what will make you a better applicant.”

Also, just as there are no perfect applicants, there are also no perfect colleges. Simply because a college is highly selective or has a prestigious reputation does not mean it is the right school for you. 

If perfection is not the goal in life or in the college you go to, then what is? Your high school years and the college application process are about learning skills and developing your interests with the goal of figuring out who you are and what the next phase of your life might look like. So, instead of chasing perfect, chase yourself. Listen to yourself. What are you passionate about? What excites you?  If you do what you love, research schools, build a balanced college list, and apply to institutions where your personality aligns with their guiding mission— THAT is your best chance for admission and will also end up being where you are happiest.