Alex was a strong applicant in many ways. He had an interesting job at a boutique consulting firm, excellent references and slightly above average numbers. His career goals were clear, and everything flowed into a very solid story. He was understandably ambitious, applying to Columbia, Lauder and Harvard. Yes, he was a strong applicant in many ways, but his application was missing something. When he told me he was gay, about a month into our work together, I knew exactly what that something was, and suggested he weave information about his sexuality into his essays.
He was surprised by my suggestion, asking me:
“do most of your clients discuss their sexuality in their essays?”
“won’t this seem like a ‘diversity’ gimmick?”
I understood where he was coming from, but after discussing his background and the very personal process of “coming out”, it was clear that this was:
– a major theme in his life
– integral to his identity
– had shaped him in many ways
All very good reasons to include it.
He ended up adapting one essay per school to his sexuality. He discussed his own self discovery, and the process of self acceptance, and then wrote about telling family and friends, their reactions and how that had impacted him. The mechanics of his story may have been similar to others, but the way it shaped his outlook, and his involvement in mentoring activities, was personal. The balance of the essay discussed the impact as opposed to telling the story of what happened.
Alex was admitted to Columbia and Harvard. Is it because he included this element in his applications? Who knows? But we both agreed that the application that he submitted was a more authentic picture of him, and the person that the schools admitted was the real thing.
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