But the question that almost always requires an additional – or five – rounds of editing is the question, “Name three words that describe you.” I think the first mistake kids make is that they read this question as, “Name the three words that best describe you out of all the possible words in the world.” And of course, if you were choosing the three things that are the most fundamentally significant and definitive of who you are, you would land on adjectives like compassionate, hardworking, and curious. And all of those things would ultimately be true. But they’re also true of most of the people applying to college, and, frankly, most of the people, period.
The point of this question, as with every essay question, is to tell the reader more about who you are as a unique and dynamic individual. And in this case, the best way to do that is not to share the three words that most accurately encompass your spirit, but rather three words whose combination equals the funky and rare creature that you are. For example, I had a student who was an identical twin describe himself as “wingman,” which was a perfect way to sum up a life spent alongside another person, in competition and in cahoots. Or a kid who described himself as a “fungiphile,” which fit perfectly with his interest in science and his essay about the summer he spent studying food chemistry. Or a young woman who branded herself a “chai-addict,” which didn’t connect to the larger story she was telling, but definitely made me want to meet up with her to drink chai.
Of course, there’s no way to fully articulate yourself in three words, so don’t try to do that. Instead, give the reader three more reasons to find you interesting, three more details to round out everything you’ve already told them, three more opportunities to laugh out loud in the coffee shop where they’re reading application files. Not trying to cram every aspect of your personality into three words is, ironically, the best way to actually make yourself stand out. So I’ll leave you with the best advice I can give you, the three words that really encompass everything I’ve shared: just be yourself.