The Road to Harvard: The Marketing Game

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1925

Terjemahan ke Bahasa Indonesia tersedia di bawah.

This is the second part of “The Road to Harvard” series. Read the first part here.

 

So the one most important tenet you must bear in mind when you are aiming for top-notch ivies is this: It’s all about marketing.

You are the prototype product, and they are the potential buyers. Your aim? To carefully highlight your strengths and distinct characteristics as a student through every single component of your application, polished, wrapped and tied-up nicely in shiny golden packaging.

You see the ivies receive tens of thousand of outstanding applications each year, and they can easily form their entire freshman cohort out of 2000 perfect SAT scorers if they want to. But they don’t. Why? You must understand that what they are looking for are not superhuman all-rounded geniuses (though they might admit a few of this kind) – but rather a DIVERSE STUDENT BODY. They want each and every member of a cohort to be as unique and as distinct from one another, in order to ensure a rich learning environment on campus.

So before you begin anything on your application, you must first and foremost know thyself  (Plato got it right, it’s really the hardest thing worth pursuing in life). I know it’s not easy for some teenagers dealing with identity crisis at this point of time to even have the slightest idea about who they are – but reflect and try. It really is not that difficult to be unique. You don’t need to be born in the circus family, or save a stranger’s life at the age of ten. You just need to define your student profile VERY CLEARLY and present it VERY CLEARLY so that your application stands out among the rest.

Many candidates make the gravest mistake of trying to be as holistic as possible, and blindly throwing in hundreds of pages of irrelevant activities, stellar external exam grades, and CCA awards. As a result, they present themselves as a confusing mosaic of different personalities, a computer-controlled automaton who seem to excel in everything but harbor passion for nothing.

You must know very well your strengths, your weaknesses, what makes you tick, the source of your motivation in life, and single out only those that matter to you. Basically what are the things that make you you.

Before I began my application, I pulled out a piece of white paper and drew a mind-map of how I intend to present myself. WHO AM I? That was the title of my mind map. So who was I in my university application? A writer with a cause. A writer who is passionate about global political, social, environmental, and spiritual issues, about my country, and above all things about knowledge and learning. A writer who yearns to learn as much as possible from different personalities and different places, who wishes to inspire people across oceans and generations and contribute to the progress of the society through mass media. And that was the essence, the backbone of my application (Believe me, the reality is not as grand as it sounds, but that’s the point of marketing : exaggeration!).

And then as the shiny, pretty packaging, I threw in antics and quirks about myself (which are fortunately quite many), the interesting fact about my non-existent surname, my unique childhood background, and my peculiar sense of humor (through the story of My Stolen Bra). They are purely there for attention-catching decorations. Don’t ever overlook the packaging process, it is almost as important as the main content of your application! Think this way: two brands of shampoo might be concocted from similar chemicals, but the one with the most attractive, high-quality packaging would attract more consumers wouldn’t it? I bet at least a hundred of other applicants out there are writers as passionate as myself about writing – but perhaps none of them mentions that he/she once poured a bottle of mineral water on a bunch of high-school bullies.

So how can you fit in all aspects of your game plan into your limited personal statement? You don’t. You fit in all of these little aspects through EVERY COMPONENT of your application. Once again I repeat, EVERY COMPONENT MATTERS. Okay, once again for effect : EVERY SINGLE COMPONENT MAKES A DIFFERENCE.

Your main task is to make sure that everything in your application is varied, yet coherent; they support each other and paint a holistic picture of your student profile. For example your personal statement might outline on how you came to be passionate about football, and how you could make a difference with your football skills. And then your counselor recommendation will talk about how you still maintain your responsibilities in your studies, despite hectic football training everyday. And the other teacher recommendation will talk about your leadership qualities and how your funny yet profound speeches inspire your teammates to win that A-Div titles for your school.

So yes, strategize, people! Of course some of you over-qualified students would have it easy. You might win last year’s Physics International Olympiad, or Beijing’s Olympic gold medal in ice-skating, or first place in Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition for adult category – and that’s how you stand out. But if you’re just a relatively-good-but-still-average student (like me!), you must put even more thoughts and considerations into your application. Who knows if you’re lucky, next year Yale might be lacking that student-backpacker who plays football and they will pick you to fill in that spot. Or Columbia will be short of a student who loves to cook and philosophizes about food to make up the class of 2017!

Strategize, and shoot your application to as many universities as possible. You’ve got nothing to lose.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, PLEASE BE HONEST. No copying of anyone’s essay please, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. These people are experts in reading application – they have done it for years and years and years. Most probably they would spot a fake persona straightaway, so don’t jeopardize your chances (unless you are an experienced conman of course. But if they find out when you’re there… then you’ll risk of getting expelled and sued in a court!)

 

JALAN KE HARVARD: PERMAINAN MARKETING

 

Jadi, salah satu tips paling penting mengenai aplikasi ke universitas top Ivy League adalah : aplikasi = marketing.

Kamu adalah prototipe produk, dan mereka adalah pembelinya. Tujuan kamu? Memasarkan semua kualitas unik kamu sebagai seorang pelajar dalam tiap komponen aplikasi, dipoles, dibungkus, dan diikat rapi dalam paket emas gemerlap.

Ivy League Universities menerima puluhan ribu pelamar kualitas tinggi tiap tahunnya, dan dengan mudah mereka bisa mengisi satu angkatan tahun pertama dengan siswa-siswi yang memperoleh skor sempurna untuk SAT, tapi bukan itu yang mereka lakukan. Kenapa? Ketahuilah bahwa universitas-universitas ini tidak mencari manusia-manusia luar-biasa-serba-bisa (meski mereka mungkin juga menerima beberapa manusia macam ini), tetapi yang mereka cari adalah populasi siswa yang bervariasi. Mereka mau tiap-tiap siswa dalam satu angkatan punya keunikan dan kelebihan masing-masing supaya mereka bisa belajar lewat satu sama lain.

Jadi, yang perlu kamu ketahui sebelum mulai aplikasi adalah MENGETAHUI DIRI KAMU SENDIRI. Refleksi ke dalam, bukan ke luar. Unik bukan berarti kamu harus jadi pemain sirkus atau menyelamatkan jiwa perdana menteri di usia sepuluh tahun, kamu hanya perlu mempresentasikan definisi profil pelajar kamu sejelas mungkin supaya bisa mencuri perhatian.

Banyak pelajar yang mencoba menciptakan impresi lewat ratusan halaman berisi prestasi-prestasi yang kurang relevan, nilai ujian setinggi langit, dan segudang aktivitas ekstrakurikuler. Alhasil, mereka merepresentasi diri sendiri sebagai mosaik personaliti-personaliti yang berbeda, sejenis robot yang serba bisa namun tidak punya semangat membara untuk mengejar apapun yang spesifik.

Kamu harus tahu sejelas mungkin apa kekuatan kamu, apa kelemahan kamu, cita-cita dan impian kamu, pokoknya semua hal yang membuat diri kamu spesial sebagai seorang individu.

Sebelum mulai aplikasi, Aku membuat sebuah mind map yang judulnya WHO AM I? Jadi siapa aku dalam aplikasi universitasku? Seorang penulis dengan tujuan mulia. Seorang penulis yang peduli akan negaraku Indonesia, tentang situasi politik, sosial, ekonomi, lingkungan, isu-isu spiritual, dan terutama akan peningkatan pengetahuan publik dan edukasi. Seorang penulis yang haus akan pengalaman dan pengetahuan, yang ingin menjadi sumber inspirasi bagi pembaca-pembaca dari seberang lautan dan dari generasi yang berbeda. Seorang penulis yang ingin memperbaiki kualitas sumber daya bangsa lewat media. Dan itulah, inti tulang punggung dari aplikasiku. (Tentu saja, kenyataannya tidak seagung tampaknya, tapi justru itu intinya : marketing! hiperbola!)

Dan lalu, sebagai pembungkus yang cantik dan menarik, aku melapisi kualitas-kualitas di atas dengan trivia-trivia unik, misalnya saja fakta bahwa aku tidak punya nama keluarga, pengalaman masa kecilku yang sedikit berbeda dari kebanyakan siswa lain (dari demografik grup Tionghoa-Indonesia), dan selera humorku yang sedikit aneh (cek kisah My Stolen Bra). Trivia-trivia ini gunanya untuk mencuri perhatian pembaca. Mereka ini sama pentingnya dengan isi aplikasi itu sendiri! Coba saja pikir, dua botol sampo merek berbeda, mungkin saja dibuat oleh bahan-bahan kimia yang sama, namun botol mana yang lebih menarik akan menarik lebih banyak pembeli, betul kan? Aku berani bertaruh, pasti ada setidaknya ratusan pelamar lain di luar sana yang juga hobi menulis dan bercita-cita untuk menyelamatkan dunia lewat tulisan mereka. Namun mungkin tidak ada dari mereka yang menulis bagaimana dia menyiram segalon air ke kepala anak-anak sekolah badung yang buat rusuh.

Jadi bagaimana caranya merepresentasikan semua kualitas-kualitas yang berjibun ini ke dalam esai personal yang terbatas? Rahasianya adalah, menyebarkan kualitas-kualitas ini sama rata ke semua komponen (rekomendasi guru, resume, jawaban singkat, dan sebagainya) dari aplikasi kamu, bukan hanya lewat esai personal!

Kamu harus pikir masak-masak bagaimana caranya membuat segala komponen aplikasi kamu tampak bervariasi, namun tetap koheren. Mereka harus saling menyokong satu sama lain dan memberikan gambaran besar dari profil pelajar kamu.  Contohnya, kamu seorang pemain sepak bola di tim sekolah. Esai personal kamu membahas tentang bagaimana kamu mencintai sepak bola dan apa yang menjadi sumber motivasi kamu. Rekomendasi konselor kamu menyebutkan bagaimana kamu tetap seorang siswa berprestasi, meskipun sibuk latihan dan bertanding sepak bola. Kemudian rekomendasi guru kamu menonjolkan kualitas-kualitas kamu sebagai seorang pemimpin, dan bagaimana pidato kamu menginspirasi seluruh tim sepak bola untuk memenangkan gelar liga musim lalu!

Jadi ya, intinya strategi, strategi, strategi. Beberapa dari kamu mungkin memang sudah luar biasa dan super jenius. Kamu mungkin menang ratusan Olimpiade Fisika sebelum ini, atau menang figure ice-skating kategori junior di Olimpik Beijing – dan prestasi-prestasi dewa  inilah yang membuat kamu bersinar dari pelamar-pelamar lain. Namun jika kamu hanyalah siswa pintar namun tetap biasa-biasa saja, (seperti aku!) kamu harus lebih gigih lagi memasarkan aplikasi kamu supaya punya daya jual yang tinggi. Siapa tahu saja tahun depan Yale kekurangan siswa yang suka travelling dan main sepak bola,  atau Columbia mencari siswa yang hobi masak dan berfilosofi soal makanan – dan mungkin saja kamu adalah orang yang tepat untuk mengisi satu dari posisi-posisi tersebut!

PERINGATAN : JANGAN SEKALI-SEKALI mencoba mengkopi esai atau aplikasi pelamar lain, baik yang pelamar dulu maupun sekarang! Pekerja-pekerja di kantor penyeleksi siswa itu adalah ahli-ahli yang sudah terbiasa membaca aplikasi siswa dari tahun ke tahun. Kemungkinan besar mereka akan langsung tahu kalau kamu bohong. Kalau kamu beruntung dan diterima masuk ke salah satu universitas Amrik, namun di kemudian hari ketangkap basah memalsukan prestasi atau fakta personal, bisa-bisa kamu dikeluarkan dari sekolah dan dituntut di pengadilan!

Photo credit: Microsoft

 


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Alice
Alice is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Arts degree in Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her choice of major (or "concentration", speaking in Harvard lingo) in Social Anthropology is based on her imminent future plan to study while traveling around the world. Alice completed her International Baccalaureate degree in Singapore under ASEAN scholarship. In the past, she had written for various publications, from political reviews to gossip columns to travel guides, and won several writing competitions in Indonesian, Malay, and English language. Besides traveling and writing, she is a self-proclaimed dancer who specializes in couple dancing such as Ballroom styles, Salsa, Swing, and Brazilian Zouk.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a big fan of your posts, really, and no it’s no marketing (speaking of it, btw, this entry says it all about a high-level marketing strategy). I only read two of your insightul pieces yet I’m convinced already that I will be reading the rest. Your articles are easy to follow and give preciously rare informations all the while being witty, which makes reading through them not only essential to my application preparation but also a pleasurable experience! Thank you 😉

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