What is your Motto? College Admission and Identity

What is your Motto? College Admission and Identity

Brennan E. Barnard
Director of College Counseling
The Derryfield School



PEARLS BEFORE SWINE © Stephan Pastis. Reprinted by permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK for UFS. All rights reserved.

When I saw this cartoon recently it got me thinking about the concept of mottos and branding.  As college counselors guiding students through the college search and application process, we are in many ways helping them identify their “brand” and facilitating the “marketing” of their story to colleges.  As such, I have developed an exercise for high school juniors as they embark on a year of self-reflection, goal setting and exploring colleges. 

Students should undertake this practice not in a disingenuous or contrived manner, but rather as a way of staying true to their values, interests and strengths.  In considering personal mottos and setting intentions for the year ahead it is useful to examine the goals, challenges, growth and changes that might be embraced in the coming months.

The following are some questions to ponder, as well as examples of how it might look for a student on this journey:

VisionWhere am I going?  What do I want for the coming year?  What does success look like at the close of 2016?  Why do I want to go to college and what do I hope to gain from the experience?

“I hope to find a college that will allow me to study broadly and engage in community life.  I don’t want to get stressed out about applying to college or let the process dominate every moment of my high school experience this coming year.  I want to get excited about exploring my future and have fun with it.  By this time next year, I hope to have a least one college acceptance.  I want to go to college to study in more depth and to discover subjects that have not been available in high school.”

Mission:  How do I get there? How will my actions and choices this year get me closer to realizing my vision for myself?  What proactive steps must I take to reach my goals?

“I am not going to get caught up in the frenzy among my peers about this process.  I will keep practicing the mindfulness I have learned as a way to stay in the moment, remain balanced and remind myself to have fun. I will not wait until the last minute to write my essays or complete my applications.  I am committing to at least an hour of test preparation each week until I take the SAT.  I want to visit 5-10 colleges by the end of the summer and include some that are outside of my comfort zone.

MottoWhat is my guiding principle?  What short sentence summarizes my intention for the year?

in exploratione, gaudium” (in exploration, there is joy)

Slogan:  What is a memorable phrase that will define my year?  From a Scottish word meaning "battle cry" slogans are typically used to promote one initiative.  What will be the few words that become my battle cry?

"To college with conscience and creativity”

TaglineWhat is the point I want to make?  What phrase powerfully represents the message and tone that I want to remain?  How do I briefly clarify what is important to me?

“The journey to college is paved with opportunity and learning” 

TrademarkWhat makes me different than the next person?  What are unique qualities that are representative of what I value about which I am proud?

“I have the ability to find humor even in tense situations in a way that is not offensive or distracting.  I am able to step back and be playful.  I am proud that I do not get caught on the hamster wheel of life and that I do well in school without losing perspective.”

Answer these questions for yourself based on what you truly feel, not what you expect others want to hear or what you anticipate will appear best to colleges.  This exercise should not be looked at as shameless self-promotion, but rather as setting intention for the coming year and aspiring to honor one’s strengths and challenges.  The admission process should not be about just “getting in” to college.  In its purest form, it is an opportunity to be introspective during a time of transition and to identify one’s unique “brand” of values and interests.   Those of us who are not applying to college could also benefit from articulating our vision for the year ahead and determining the motto that best defines our hopes.  If you are really creative, come up with your own jingle! 




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