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Why My College Experience Has Been My Most Valuable

By Julie Lain, YOUniversityTV Student Contributing Writer – As a kid, many people get asked different variations of the same question: “What has been your best experience?” And even at that age, there are many joyful moments to consider-birthday parties, trips to the local amusement park, and bicycle-riding lessons. But often, it is not until your adult life that you go through many of your most valuable events. Some, for instance, may find their time in the military to be of utmost importance to them, while others sometimes find that their experience as a parent was the most rewarding one they have had. Personally though, I consider my time in college as my most valuable experience.

First, my experience in college has given me a chance to sharpen my skills in my field of choice. There have been, and there will continue to be, many opportunities to learn more ways of improving my craft as a result of my time in school, which I am truly thankful for. For example, the Writing Center at my school has taught me many writing tips and rules that I was unaware even existed, and would still be unaware of had it not been a part of my experience. Because of this, I realized I still had a lot to learn despite what I thought; but this allows me to improve my skills more as I continue to attend school and also gives me more confidence in my area. And as a result, I know one day this valuable experience will help me in my search for another one-a rewarding career.

In addition to learning practical skills, being in college has also taught me a lot about social sciences such as sociology and history. For instance, I have had the privilege of learning about religions in unfamiliar parts of the world, such as Buddhism and Islam, that I had no knowledge of beforehand. From this experience, I have learned many interesting things about the cultures in which these religions are typically followed. Learning about many different religious ideas and practices in other areas of the world, like meditation, reincarnation, and the worshipping of multiple deities, has been valuable to me because it has cleared up some misconceptions I had, thus allowing me to be less ignorant on the topic. It has also given me a better understanding of others’ beliefs and traditions, no matter what region of the world they originated. This has made my time in college much more enriching and worthwhile.

Also, there are other social science subjects that were valuable for me to learn as well. For example, I was fortunate to have taken classes in psychology during my earlier years in college. I had always wanted to know more about psychology since I have found the human mind and how it works and develops very interesting. I have learned about the process by which the brain develops during infancy and childhood, the concept of repressed memories, and how distorted those memories become over time. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about all of this and hope to learn even more about different aspects of psychology in the future. I consider this subject a very valuable and important part of the college experience because, not only does it allow one to understand how their own mind works, but also gives them more knowledge of what the human mind and brain are actually capable of.

My experience in college, particularly the English program, has also allowed me to gain more knowledge about a variety of literary authors and types of literature. Had I not decided to attend Carthage, I would never have known about classic writers like Katherine Anne Porter, Kate Chopin and the many different plays from William Shakespeare. I have also learned more about what fables, short stories and poems are and how to tell between them. Also, reading those classic pieces has given me insight into what it was like to live in the author’s time era and what the oppressed female writers had to go through. Not only is this knowledge interesting to learn, but recognizing the differences between various methods of story-writing will also help me to be more versatile as a writer, thus improving my future career.

In summary, my time in college has enriched my life in many ways. It has provided me with the necessary tools to enhance my skills more, taught me valuable knowledge about this diverse world and people and concepts in general and eventually will enable me to hopefully become more successful in life when I finally graduate and get my degree. It also has stressed to me the importance of thinking critically and asking questions in many situations. All these aspects of college have also made me more well-rounded as a person. It has been easier for me to achieve these opportunities than if I lived in some other countries, especially third-world ones. These experiences are truly irreplaceable and I would not trade them for anything. If I could go back in time and speak to my much younger self when I was first asked the question, “What has been your best experience?” the baby-faced version of me would certainly have been surprised by what my answer is now.

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More From: College Tips

So you want your college essay to show admissions how amazing you are, but you don’t want to say, “Hey admissions—I’m amazing!”

Displaying your accomplishments without bravado is harder than most people think, especially in an assignment like the college application essay, which, when done well, can be a vehicle for highlighting some of your best assets and triumphs. Admissions truly wants to know what distinguishes you from the competition, but who wants to read 650 words of someone tooting his or her own horn? (Not me!) Talking about yourself requires a fine balance between humility and horn tooting.

Over the course of my 12 years of essay advising, I have worked with teenagers of all styles and comfort levels when it comes to presenting their talents and achievements. There are those who routinely undersell themselves (“Sure, I raised $10,000 for cancer research last year, but it’s not a big deal.”), and those would fill a sheet of paper long enough to reach the moon with the details of their every last exploit if you gave them the chance. (“I once decided not to kill a spider in the house and released it back into the wild instead, because I have so much respect for other living things.”) In between these extreme ends of the spectrum, fall the many students who feel moderately comfortable talking about themselves and their successes, but don’t know how to do it in a way that doesn’t feel braggy or self-important.

But it is absolutely possible to land in that sweet spot between overly humble and obnoxiously self-congratulatory. Here are some tips for displaying your landmark successes and defining these moments with grace and without the risk of leaving a sour taste in the mouth of an admissions officer.

Describe your actions and let your accomplishments speak for themselves. This is an offshoot of the classic “show—don’t tell” rule. Telling is boring. Showing engages. It reveals an understanding of the event or activity in question and can reveal thoughtful details about your involvement. Are you a Model United Nations champion? Describing the process of preparing for a tournament—your methodical preparation and bizarre-but-hilarious pre-competition rituals, for example—will allow admissions to grasp your level of investment in the activity, your sense of pride in your mastery of a subject, even your sense of humor. Revealing the process behind your passions can even show an admissions officer why you are so good at what you do. Admissions officers are insightful. They don’t need you tell them how to interpret your achievements. Describe your actions and let admissions infer their value.

Don’t list your activities. Instead, detail your motivations. Providing admissions with a list of your résumé’s greatest hits is a surefire way to sound like a self-impressed blowhard. Also: Zzzzzzzzz. These activity inventories are sure to appear elsewhere on your application (like in the Activities section of the Common or Coalition applications). What admissions will find truly impressive and interesting about your service initiative or your fundraiser or your gold medal at the math fair isn’t the fact of your accomplishment or participation, but rather the reasons behind your actions. Qualities like empathy, self-reflection, and determination don’t reveal themselves on your transcript, so show admissions your personality and humanity by shedding light on why you do what you do. Is there a reason you volunteering for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society instead of, say, Memorial Sloan Kettering? Why do you wake up at 4 a.m. to dive into a freezing cold pool every morning? What drives you, and how do you apply that motivation to your interests and goals? That is what admissions wants to know.

Be grateful. Do you feel lucky to have organized a book drive that has given underserved members of your community access to some of your favorite novels? Does debating the safety of long-term cell phone use on a Sunday afternoon make you nerdily giddy? How can you show admissions that you enjoy life, that you’re invested in your commitments, and that you think about how you have come to be in the place you’re in? Expressing gratitude is a surefire way to contextualize your standout moments and signal that you understand the importance, not just of your own actions, but of their relation to the bigger picture.

Related: 3 Big College Essay Taboos—and When to Break Them Anyway

Ultimately, no matter who you are and what you have done in the first 17 years of your life, representing yourself with confidence in the college essay is crucial. You don’t have to have a heavy hand with the self-praise (and probably shouldn’t), but this is the time to give yourself some credit and show admissions what you’re made of beyond your transcript, test scores, and activity lists. There is a balance to be found in the presentation of your finest qualities and most impressive triumphs. I know you can achieve it because—as admissions will soon find out through your own subtle cues—you’re pretty amazing.

Stacey Brook is a writer, admissions expert, and the founder and chief advisor of College Essay Advisors, an education company that offers online courses and in-person college essay advising to students around the world. Brook has over a decade’s worth of experience and teaches the Supplemental Essay Writing course at nytEducation: The School of The New York Times. She has helped more than 1,000 students build lifelong writing skills while crafting compelling and effective admissions essays.

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