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Finding Your 'Wow Factor'

I always tell clients that the best thing they can do for their application is to identify the 'wow factor' that makes them the ideal candidate to study at the school they're applying to. It's not always easy for clients to do that.

I worked with a re-applicant a few seasons ago who was applying to political science programs. She had applied to schools on her own the previous year and been turned down by all of them. That experience had completely undermined her confidence. She worried she was 'good enough,' but not special enough, to get accepted to her target schools.

One problem I spotted immediately in her previous applications was that her personal statement was weak. That was definitely a problem. Her GPA and GRE scores were okay but not great, so she really needed a strong essay to put her over the top.

The first thing we needed to do was to identify what distinguished my client from all the other applicants to the same programs. I pushed her to express her motivations and interests more clearly, and she struggled to hone in on stating her goals.

She worked hard and produced a much improved statement. It showed her understanding of the dilemmas she wanted to study as a grad student, and explained how her family background had led her to those interests.

Another issue that came up in working with this client was that she kept asking other people she knew for feedback on her application, and what they thought her chances of getting into grad school were. Some of the things that people told her undermined her self-confidence even further.

Fortunately, I was able to draw on my experience with working on admissions committees to convince her that a lot of what she was hearing was not accurate. If she had listened to these other people, I think she would have given up on grad school entirely.

I'm pleased to say that she listened to me and hung in there, and submitted much, much stronger applications to her desired programs. She got multiple acceptances, including one to her targeted school, which has one of the top programs in her field.

– Contributed by Senior Consultant Heather MacNeill, former Assistant Director of Graduate Admission at Pacific University.

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