Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Getting up things to say for yourself"

April is an interesting month. It's one of the peak visit periods on campus, and I am reminded of this daily as I battle my way up the stairs in McNutt Hall. Hundreds of admitted students come to campus in April - right now it's '14s who are coming to campus for another (or first) look before the May 1 reply deadline. (Over 600 '14s will be on campus next week for Dimensions of Dartmouth!) Many juniors and their families, who are entering the next phase of the college search, are on campus, too. Transfer students and students who are on our waitlist are also in the mix. Lots of visitors, lots of different questions, and lots of different perspectives.

What I find particularly interesting about this time of year is the contact between admitted students and those who are thinking about applying. I recently overheard a junior parent ask an admitted student, "So, how did you do it?" This is the only time of year when our tours and sessions are filled to the brim with both those who have an offer of admission on the table and those who hope to be in that position in the future. It creates an interesting dynamic and dialogue.

A great deal of this talk centers on the "How did you do it?" question. I've heard and read a lot lately about "expressing passion" and standing out. Admitted students, parents, counselors, admissions officers - we've all given this advice, "Write about something you're passionate about." What does that mean? And (as my brother-in-law recently pointed out to me) what if you don't know what you're passionate about? Good questions. Here are some thoughts for the juniors and will-be-applying-soon students, as well as the students looking for waitlist advice who are thinking about what kind of update to send in.

Here's what you don't need to be armed with to stand out in the college admissions process...
A defined career path or course of study.
Your life calling.
Clear passions.
A cure for cancer.

Here's what you should consider articulating in your essays, interviews, conversations...
You. A clear, honest picture of who you are and what matters to you. (All subject to growth and change, I hope.)
What you find interesting and intriguing.
What you enjoy reading about and discussing.
What choices you've made.
What (and how) you've learned.

If you do have some clear passions, great. We want to hear about them. But if you don't have any capital-P 'Passions,' that's okay. Don't make them up. Pursue what does interest you and keep yourself open to new experiences and ideas. We are very interested in your potential.

I think what we actually mean by 'passion' is "getting up something to say for yourself." Robert Frost (a Dartmouth alum!) offered this advice in a Great Issues course at Dartmouth on April 11, 1949. Frost is widely-known as a poet, and some (including many Dartmouth students and community members) were fortunate enough to experience his in-person "talks" and visits back to campus in the '40s through '60s. In this particular talk he goes on to say: "The first thing to say is that you've got to start getting up things to say for yourself, if you want to hold your own. And the pre-first thing to say is that you gotta have an own to hold." (I'm quoting from page 3 of Edward Connery Lathem's 2009 book, "Robert Frost Speaking On Campus." Check it out if you're looking for some summer reading.)

We are interested in learning about what you have to say - what things you "get up about." This is not just how you see the world, it is how you see yourself in the world. What are your opinions? What are your interests?

Who knows, Passion might just sneak up and grab you along the way, but don't worry about creating it as much as being open to it.

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