With so many colleges to choose from, how do I begin narrowing down my options?

Before the college brochures make their way into your house, I recommend asking yourself a series of questions to help you define the type of environment in which you will be most happy and do your best work.

Do you like the idea of being the smartest student in your class or being surrounded by really smart kids? Is it important to find a specific course of study or to have a wide range of options? Do you like the idea of meeting five new people a day or finding five people who will be your friends for life? Are you drawn to familiar people and places or are you excited by a new region, meeting students from across the nation and around the world? Do you prefer to work in a highly collaborative environment or are you energized by competition?

Knowing who you are provides a protective armor in a process that can be overwhelming. Not only are you inundated with communication from the colleges, everyone you know has an opinion of what is a good college and what is not, and feels very free to express it. And being able to say, “I’m the kind of person who…” is very empowering.

What does Kenyon look for in an applicant?

  First, of course, we look to see if the student can be successful at Kenyon; have you had the preparation in high school to do Kenyon work? We look at your transcript and at your curricular rigor. How many top-level courses have you successfully completed in each of the key academic areas? We look at your grades and course selection within the context of your high school. We look at your test scores, of course, but they are a secondary element, because they tell us only what you did on a particular Saturday morning, not how you performed across the course of four years.

That being said, most applicants who apply to Kenyon are very capable of doing the academic work. So what do we look for next? We look for all the ways in which you will contribute to our community, as student energy is the fuel that makes this place run. We look for academic engagement (often called “passion”), artistic talent (in music, writing, drama, dance, the visual arts) and athletic ability (including varsity sports). We also look for much more subjective qualities, like civic engagement and compassion (as expressed through your work in your community and your contributions to your family).

Your teacher recommendations tell us quite a bit about your character, and so does your essay. Your essay tells us how you see the world and your place in it. And essays that are authentic, regardless of topic, will always speak to application readers.

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