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  • Jason Flurry, CFP

It doesn’t matter what you say if no one can understand it...

How to connect with the college of your dreams by speaking their language.

My wife was visiting my son who was studying abroad in Italy recently. She doesn’t speak Italian and hearing the everyday conversations of the locals was interesting at first, but soon her lack of understanding allowed her to drown it out as just another sound of the city. Even though the conversations may have been spoken perfectly, creatively and passionately, none of it connected with her because it wasn’t her native language, English.


One day as she and my son were having lunch at the Coliseum in Rome, something interesting happened. There though the noise and buzz was a sound that instantly caught her attention and caused her to stop and give her full attention to it. She overheard a couple speaking together in English, and as simple as that sounds to us, it was something that drew her instantly to them and allowed her to feel a common bond, even though she didn’t know them. Out of the thousands that were all around her, that one couple stood out, but only to her and my son because they understood the language.


Applying to college creates a very similar dynamic for the Admission folks who read colleges essays. They read thousands of these essays and short answer questions every year, and like anything you do often, the excitement of whatever it is wears off as you do it more often. The constant flow of similar answers to the same essay prompts thousands of times over causes those poor souls in the Admissions office to tune out the noise of those ordinary essays, just like my wife did with those conversations she couldn’t connect with on her trip.


It takes something different to catch their attention and awaken them from their daily routine. It takes you speaking their language!


But how to you get to know their language so you can speak it?

Fortunately, most colleges tell you what their love language is ahead of time in a document they publish for the Department of Education called the Common Data Set. As you would expect, most of it is not very user friendly because it is designed with a government agency as its target audience, but you can still benefit from one special section most people don’t realize is there. Colleges include a table that shows what each one considers “important” and “most important” in the admission process. They also share what they consider and don’t consider as a part of their admission criteria. So in essence, right there in that obscure report they are telling you what their love language is so you can tailor your message to them – exactly the way the like to hear it.


What are they looking for?

You’ll find that some colleges really value things like community service, character qualities, leadership experience, work experience and extracurricular activities. Other colleges place emphasis on the interview, relationships with alumnus, and where you’re from geographically compared to their location. And, you’ll also find some colleges who place almost all of their emphasis on academics with rigor, test scores, and GPA being most important. Whatever the case is, give them what they want so they will recognize that you understand their language.


As you review these preferences, look for areas where you can improve as you prepare to apply. Once you are ready to apply, review the list again and make sure you are speaking their language in your resume, in your applications, and in your interviews for admissions and for scholarships. By doing so, you’ll stand out and create an instant and powerful connection with the colleges of your dreams.

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