How do you make an admissions officer believe you? This, in my opinion, is the central challenge of college applications. You probably believe you’re smart enough, hard-working enough, and talented enough to get into the schools you’re applying to, and your job is to convince the application reader that you are this type of future leader. Obviously, this is no easy feat—how can scores and some words on a page embody your passion, drive, and intelligence?
Many people use clubs, with the logic being that you wouldn’t be in the club if you weren’t genuinely curious and willing to put in effort. Clubs have become a standard in every high-tier college application to the point where they are often somewhat meaningless. Although they can be amazing personal achievements, awards at the local or regional level or being an officer of a club won’t particularly impress a top-tier admissions officer.
A few years ago, interested in biomedical research and knowing that much biological research is performed at universities, I was heavily considering a career as a professor. Despite spending much of my time in class being taught by them, I realized I knew very little about the lives of professors, what differentiated successful professors from the rest, and what sort of impact these people have on society. So I started a blog, ProfTalk, where I interview these professors about their lives, research, and opinions on modern issues in their field.
Since then, I’ve talked with MacArthur Geniuses, the former Dean of the Yale Graduate School, the Dean of Yale College, presidents of research institutes, the head of construction for a 500-million-dollar telescope called the LSST, department heads, and more. Just this summer I’ve talked to two Nobel Prize winners at Princeton and UC Berkeley. My blog has continued to grow in readership and mature in content as I’ve become a better interviewer and honed in on interesting topics.
With Professor Tina Lu, the Chair of East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale, I learned about how her study of late imperial Chinese literature informs being an effective head of residential college. Talking to Professor Stephen Stearns, the Director of Undergraduate Studies of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale and founder of major journals in the field, I explored Life History Theory, evolutionary medicine, and the evolutionary basis of aging. Randy Schekman, Nobel Prize-winning UC Berkeley Biology Professor, told me about how he thinks public-private biomedical research partnerships might’ve prevented the COVID-19 global pandemic. From each interview, I learn a lot about these fascinating individuals, but also about my interests and myself.
A blog, much more than another club to throw on your activities list, is an individual pursuit that demonstrates a genuine passion for a certain area. Blogs aren’t impressive or flashy, so admissions officers aren’t likely to see this as another ruse to get into college—and it shouldn’t be. Use a blog as a way to explore your interest in a particular area, evaluate a potential career option, or make connections with people who can open doors for you. People, almost universally, love telling their stories to anyone who will listen.
Take the story of Alex Banayan as a good example of how this strategy can slingshot you into high tier colleges, jobs, or whatever you’re looking for. He wrote a book called The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World's Most Successful People Launched Their Careers. He finessed his way to interviews with Bill Gates and other hugely successful business leaders, not only letting him write a bestselling book but also accumulating incredible connections. He asked them about how their started their careers and looked for patterns that he could emulate.
I realized too late for my college applications how good this would look, but it isn’t too late for you. It’s really quite simple too! Find a topic you’re passionate about, even if you’re unsure it’s what you’re going to do in the future. Come up with a name that’s not dull but also not too silly. Then identify people who know about the topic and set up interviews. As you accumulate content and connections, you’ll generally be able to access people higher and higher in the food chain. Wordpress, Wix, Squarespace, and a number of other easy online website builders have templates for blogs that are very user friendly and decently designed.
By the time you submit your applications, you’ll have more than a physical website to link for admissions officers to explore. They’ll see this as a clear symbol of your entrepreneurial spirit, fearlessness, and maturity. It’s much easier to believe that you have the drive, passion, and intelligence to be a future leader of society when they can see you’ve already begun figuring out exactly how to do that in your area of interest. The strength of blogs as activities lies in these parallel mechanisms—they’re very useful tools for learning, and they’re very useful tools for proving you love learning.
If you want help with starting a blog, a business, or any other major project check out the H&C Incubator Program!