Integrating your essays and résumé

I often see applicants underutilizing their application materials.

Think of college admissions as a game of strategy. I like to think of admissions as chess. The best chess players position their pieces most effectively to gain control of the middle of the board. Controlling the center allows each piece to defend one another while offering the most strategies for future movement.

College applications have a variety of pieces: the transcript, test scores, the résumé, various essays, and recommendation letters. Most applicants see each part as something distinct rather than the whole. Novice chess players have a difficult time grasping the overall awareness of the chess board. They unnecessarily sacrifice pieces or open themselves up to attack. Similarly, the best basketball point guards have an awareness of the court, and they can set up effective offensive schemes that integrate the whole team.

Your transcript, essays, résumé, and so on should work together just as knights, rooks, and pawns in chess. Only inexperienced point guards take the inbound pass and drive across the court straight to the bucket without passing or considering their teammates. You want to be Jason Kidd or Magnus Carlson, who can anticipate their opponents and capitalize on their weaknesses.

Separate yourself from other applicants by crafting your essays around the rest of your application. By the time senior year rolls around, your transcript, test scores, and résumé are set. You have the most leverage with essays and recommendation letters, and essays are much more important than the latter. But like a knight late in a chess game, recommendation letters also have their place.

I mentioned in a previous post about a student who went above and beyond integrating a service trip abroad with their interests at home. If that student had only mentioned their efforts on a few résumé lines, they would have done their application a disservice. Instead, they expanded upon all of their service and charitable activities and made it a centerpiece of their résumé. I was “hooked” when I read his thoughtful and passionate essay on gathering and transporting sports supplies to rural Guatemala.

If you are deeply committed to one or two activities, elaborate on and quantify your accomplishments as much as possible in your résumé. Then, dedicate one of your essays to painting a compelling picture that provides the admissions reviewer with additional insight. Submitting a letter of recommendation that provides new information can provide an additional perspective to your admissions reviewer.

Submitting an application with emphasis on the whole instead of distinct and separate parts gives the reviewer a clearer idea of who you are and why you should receive a favorable decision. Since UT does not offer interviews, consider your application as your one shot to put forward your best foot.

You, as a person, are not a distinct collection of arms, legs, and eyes, but a whole, dynamic body. Treat your application with the same complexity and dynamism.

Kevin MartinResume, Essays