‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough…’

‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough…’

With field narrowed, college applicants ready their resumes

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

It’s mid-November. Early decision deadlines have passed; others are fast approaching.

And how are our seniors doing? We checked in with Adam Karp of Springfield, a senior at Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union; Sara Strugger of Livingston, a senior at Livingston High School; and Sherri Luxenberg of West Orange, a senior at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, to see how they are faring.

In this second article in the series, we focus on the application process: crafting essays, putting together resumes, and meeting those deadlines.

Adam Karp, our early bird, applied early decision to Muhlenberg College; he expects to hear back from the school around Thanksgiving. If he gets in, he’s done — applying “early decision” means your acceptance is binding.

“I’ll be really happy,” he said. If not, well, “I’ll probably send out other applications.” Of the schools he’s already applied to, he said he would attend Brandeis University as a second choice, but he won’t hear back from the Waltham, Mass., school until March or April.

“I’m nervous. But I’m just waiting and there’s not much I can do. It’s all up in the air,” he said.

Sara Strugger, the artist, is in “the final stretch.” She has submitted applications to the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, her first choice, and Rutgers University. She is almost ready to send in applications to three more art schools.

When NJJN caught up with her, she was preparing to attend National Portfolio Day at Pratt Institute in New York City, where most of the art schools she’s applying to will conduct an official review of her portfolio. If they give her portfolio a thumbs up, she moves on to the next stage in the application process. If not, “It’s basically ‘ta-ta,’” she said.

She plans to be first on line at the booth for Tyler, her first choice. She said, “Right now I’m feeling pretty calm. But that could change.”

Sherri Luxenberg, the self-described “last minuter” was still visiting colleges and taking her SATs one last time when we first spoke with her. She did take the SATs but is filing for a reevaluation of her score. She thinks an error was made based on the provided explanation of scoring.

Four days before the early decision deadline at Barnard College in New York City, she was still wavering about whether or not she would send in the application, although everything was ready.

“I just will decide that day whether or not to hit that send button,” she said. She has narrowed the field, listing Barnard and Stern College as her top two choices. She has yet to visit Stern, or Rutgers or Queens College, where she’s also applying.

On building a resume

In another era, good grades and SAT scores were generally enough to get into the better colleges; now students feel pressure to “build a resume” of extracurricular and community service activities.

Adam planned ahead. Although he joined the swim team and ran cross country because he likes those sports, he took on other commitments, like community service, just to increase his chances of getting into a good school. Sometimes, there were happy accidents. He’s been working with special needs kids for a few years. “I started with the goal of having something on my resume, but it went further than that. Now I love helping with the kids with special needs,” he said.

Sherri spent four years doing what interested her.

“I was never concerned with my resume until right now,” she said. She plays point guard on the school’s basketball team, she’s the sports editor for the newspaper, and she’s participated in Habitat for Humanity. But when she started to build her resume, she grew anxious.

“I’m making such an effort to cram in last-minute activities to add to my resume,” she said. She began working on her class yearbook, for example, so that adding that to the list would showcase her writing skills. But she finds the process frustrating. “Your resume is supposed to be representative of who you are. The resume should naturally suit yourself. You shouldn’t have to form it.”

But Sara, as an art student, was unconcerned.

“I don’t need to go and list that I worked for a friend’s dog charity in 10th grade from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.,” she said. “They want to see that my paintings are really fantastic, not that I was a member of Amnesty International for four years.”

She crammed a few final items into her portfolio this fall, including a short documentary and a mixed-media piece.

The Essay

Sherri agonized over the application essay, trying to pinpoint what the colleges want.

“Do they want a story that will bring out emotions that will blow them away, or an essay so original and unique that nobody else would ever think of it?” she wondered.

She settled on writing about an ethical dilemma she once faced.

From the piece, she said, “I think one could really get a sense of who I am and my values and morals.” She wrote that essay and another, about working with children who are victims of terrorism in Israel, in just a couple of weeks, finishing just ahead of early application deadlines.

“I don’t really see it as procrastinating; it’s pretty typical essay writing for me,” she said. She feels the pressure, but tries to keep her cool. “Of course it’s stressful,” she said. “But at the end of the day, God is in control, and I’ll be where I’m supposed to be.”

Adam finished his essay over the summer, only to have it completely torn apart by his Schechter college adviser. He started from scratch on a new idea that he described as “more personal: stuff with the swim team, and how I managed to do the certain races that I always do and how it’s affected me in other areas of my life.”

Sara has written, she said, “oh my gosh, 10 or 11 drafts” of her personal statement (“It was crazy”). Still, like the resume, the essay takes a back seat to her portfolio.

She credits her mother with helping her to get it all done. “She’s fantastic — she’s getting me through this process,” she said. Her mother and stepfather have also been helping her practice her portfolio presentation. “They have faith in me, which is good,” she said.

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