Recently I watched a rerun of The Next Food Network Star. As part of their challenge, each of the seven aspiring Food Network Stars had to present a live food demonstration. Each contestant was paired up with a famous celebrity chef as a mentor. The mentors identified each of the contestant’s weaknesses and set up various challenges during their live demonstrations to see how each one of them handled adversity. Martita was very tied to her ingredients. So to spice things up, unbeknownst to Martita, Food Network removed her main ingredients before she got on set. Instead of adjusting to her new situation, Martita got flustered and shut down, giving a disappointing performance. Her star quality did not shine. Yvan, another contestant, spoke too softly so the judges took away his audio. Initially, Yvan had a little bump, but ultimately he raised his own volume and delivered a much stronger presentation.
Just like the Food Network, colleges want to see how their potential student applicants handle challenges. That’s why one of the new Common Application prompts specifically asks students to describe a failure and how they responded to it. It is easy to do well when everything works in your favor, but what happens when you face a setback? How do you respond to adversity? Do you buckle down and find more strength like Yvan, or do you clam up and fold like Martita?
The final elimination round of The Food Network Challenge was an impromptu 60-minute presentation, in which the candidate had to tell a story about an ingredient, in this case oranges. Unfortunately, Martita failed to connect the oranges to herself in a personal way. While on camera, she told the judges how she cooked with the oranges, but she did not tell them how oranges had played a role in her life,. Off camera, she related a great story about her father, who worked for an orange grower in California, and how citrus influenced her upbringing. If she had connected the audience with her personal story, perhaps she would have stayed in the game. Instead she got the axe.
So as you start to write your own personal statement for your college applications, remember that the key is to make that connection. The college admissions committee has to understand why you do what you do. What motivates you? How did you come to a particular decision? When your personal life prompts you to do something, that’s what makes for an interesting story and makes an interesting candidate.
If you need help finding your stories, our essay specialists can help.