March 1, 2024

How to See Yourself Like Admissions Officers Do

Seeing yourself clearly is one of the hardest things to do in life.  If you doubt this fact, try recording your voice and listening to yourself.  Does it sound like you?  Do you even like the way you sound?  

When you speak, you hear yourself both through the air - which is the way other people hear you and how you hear your recorded voice - and through bone conduction into your inner ear, which makes your voice sound lower when speaking.  

Sure, that’s but one example, but if you add it up along with the many other psychological criteria at play, it means that we fundamentally perceive the world differently than how we are perceived.

So, how do you see yourself the way others see you?

Fundamentally, you can’t.  You can only try to get closer to the truth.  And there’s a mountain of advice on this subject from folks who are far more qualified than I.  To acknowledge their good advice, consider:

  1. Keeping a journal (reflecting on the week leads to better self-perception)
  2. Practicing mindfulness meditation (the beginner course at Waking Up is the gold standard for learning how to meditate)
  3. Practice gratitude (acknowledging gratitude can potentially help you see your own situation more clearly)
  4. Positive self-talk (becoming aware of how your internal monologue works - not well, if you’re like most people - can help you see the difference between what your head says and what’s real in the outside world).

All of this is good advice.  Two problems, though: 1) if you haven’t heard that advice by now, you’ve been living under a rock, and 2) this advice is for the long-term, not the short.  These are lifelong habits to form, not self-perception that will help you get in.

I want to get to the nuts and bolts of how you see yourself clearly in the context of your application process.  So how do you do that?

First, understand who reads your application.  Admissions readers are:

  1. Human beings.  I know this may sound simplistic, but human beings have human needs.  They’re not impartial arbiters of truth.  Just as judges have been known to be more lenient in parole sentencing after lunch, admissions readers suffer the same impulses.  They’re often hungry, bored, irritated, and tired.  So knowing that you’re writing for an actual human can help you craft a message that resonates.

2. Members of a community.  They work at their school, they live near their school, and their family members often work/go to school at the school.  In other words, they want to add people who fit into their community.  They know what they’re proud of, and they want you to know it too.

3. Varied in their professional training.  Take medical school admissions officers, for example.  You might assume that it’s all doctors reading your application, but no.  You’ll be read by doctors, professors, medical students, and admissions readers who have no background or training in medicine.  Don’t assume they can understand the science that you’re writing about, and make sure that your application materials are accessible to everyone, not just those who are in your prospective field.

4. Pressed for time.  They won’t absorb you in all your complexity.  They’re moving quickly and reading quickly, so you need to make sure that you - like a politician giving a stump speech - stay composed and focused on the key points you want to get across.

Okay, considering your audience is part of the battle.  But how do you perceive yourself clearly when your own faculties are obviously compromised?

For that, you turn to the people in your life who know you and can reflect their perspective.

Here’s the technique.  Let’s call it a Feedback Fiesta.

Start by answering the following questions about yourself.

  1. What are three words that describe you?
  2. In what situations have you seen me at my most confident?
  3. What are your three biggest strengths?
  4. What’s your biggest weakness?
  5. How well do you handle feedback?
  6. How well do you manage stress?
  7. What am I most passionate about?
  8. How well do you manage conflict or disagreement?
  9. How would you describe your communication style?

After you answer those questions, find three people who know you in different contexts.  Maybe a roommate, a family member, and a third person from a different discipline (a boss?  A mentor?  An advisor?).

Make sure that you’re actually open to their feedback, and tell them that you want to know the God’s honest truth.  No social niceties here; those don’t help.  We want to know how others really perceive you, so let them know that you’re tough and you can take it and to be as open as possible in their responses.  Whether they respond verbally or in writing is up to you, but you want to make it convenient for the person doing you this favor.

Now, look at their responses.  How do they match up to yours?  Are they more positive or more negative?  What’s the question with the biggest mismatch between your answers and those of your trusted cohort?

Now, it just might be that those who know you don’t agree on some of the questions.  That’s fine, of course.  You’re a complicated person who shows different personality strengths in different situations.  What you’re trying to understand is how to talk about yourself in a professional or academic context.  That’s the context most relevant to admissions officers, so keep your focus there.  For example, if you’re a party animal with your friends, presumably you have the professionalism to keep it buttoned up when interacting with peers and professors.  

Remember earlier when I talked about recording and hearing your own voice? Well, if you’re listening to your own voice in an admissions context, you want to do so through studio monitors, headphones that don’t distort the sound.  These are not Beats headphones, which tend to hype up both the bass and the treble to create a more head-bopping sound.  No, you want the truth, which is what studio monitors such as the SONY MDRs do.  No auto-tune, no stereo mix.  Just the straight feed of yourself.  Sure, you will never be able to see (or hear) yourself perfectly, but it doesn’t mean you should ever stop trying.

- Rob

P.S. We are in the process of building out the Pathfinder Med School Course - a FREE series of online courses to help students master their applications. Read about it here!

Rob Humbracht is founder and CEO of Passport Admissions and lead author of The Savvy PreMed. He is also CEO at ReelDx and Co-founder of HEAL Clinical Education Network. FOLLOW HIM ON LINKEDIN. Book a free intro meeting with him here.

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