To stay competitive, students hone in on individualized talents

On March 29, high school senior Suzy Lee Weiss penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal bemoaning her college rejections. In it, Weiss writes, “Colleges tell you, ‘Just be yourself.’ That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself!” She continues, “If you work at a local pizza shop and are the slowest person on the cross-country team, consider taking your business elsewhere.”

Weiss’ comments do not reveal a flaw within the college admissions process, but rather a sense of entitlement and immaturity in the writer. She expresses begrudging regret that she did not start a “fake charity” or do more community service in high school to help pad her resume.

It is clear Weiss does not understand the meaning of “be yourself.” If she has no interest in being anything other than average, she should not expect to be admitted to an elite school. 

Colleges tell you to be yourself because they are looking for a specific type of person to admit, not because they just really want to get to know you. At a time when college admissions are more competitive than ever, schools are able to be as selective as they want. If you do not take it upon yourself to stand out, as Weiss admits she did not, you should not expect admission simply by virtue of you “being yourself.”

Even if Weiss had the SAT scores those institutions required, her lack of motivation and innovation make her an undesirable candidate for admission. In his article, “Need a Job? Invent It” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman quotes Harvard education specialist, Tony Wagner, who argues that traditional “knowledge” is no longer enough when entering the workforce. Whereas in the past you went to college to obtain a specialized degree, or specialized knowledge, which gave you access to job opportunities, today is a different reality. The dynamic and technologically pervasive society that exists replaces the emphasis on knowledge with an emphasis on innovation.

“Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” Wagner said. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated – curious, persistent and willing to take risks – will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own – a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.” 

Wagner’s argument seems like a perfectly situated response to Ms. Weiss’ argument, and moreover, as an redefinition of “being yourself.” Being yourself doesn’t mean being smart insofar as it means being ambitious. It means being better, or at the very least, striving for betterment. And four years from now, when Weiss graduates from whatever university accepts her, she’ll be met with the same disinterest.