Mini Lesson 8

Telling Your Story


  • What do we mean when we talk about, Telling Your Story?
  • What are colleges looking for?

  • How to give colleges a story that answers the questions they are looking to answer.



You are working towards the ability to Tell a Story about your Learning Journey. That is what all this Recording and Reflecting is all about. So what do we mean when we say, Tell Your Story?

We have said from the beginning that our end goal is to help you get into college. That could mean large state university, small liberal arts college, art school, music conservatory, trade school, international school, or something else.

We are assuming your post high school plans include attending some kind of school. If they don't, this can still be a useful process. You can still go on a unique Learning Journey and have a wonderful experience for four years. We truly believe that the Learning Journey can be its own reward. But ... but, we promised that this Journey can also lead to going to college. So we have focused Telling Your Story on the process of getting into college.

So let's examine what colleges are looking for. We don't have to examine every single college and look at their individual requirements. Instead we can put ourselves in their position and we can come up with a much broader strategy that is usable for almost any college.

On some level colleges want to know two things ...

  1. Will you be successful at our school?
  2. Are you a good match for our school?

That is it. Mainly.

Colleges are investing in you. They have to decide whether you are worth the investment of their time, their open slot, their commitment to you.

To determine whether you are worth the investment they will want to know that you are capable of being successful at their school and that you are a match for them and they are a match for you.

It sounds kind of simple right?

Can you demonstrate that you can be successful at this college?

That can be done in lots of ways.

Traditionally a college will examine the classes you took, your grade in those classes, standardized test scores. But numbers can lie. Numbers tell an incomplete story. Colleges know that numbers don't tell them everything but sometimes it is the only thing they have.

Your story can include some of that. Maybe you took some classes at a community college. That can help show that you are capable of working at the college level.

Maybe you have good scores on standardized tests like the SAT or ACT? That can be a part of your story, too.

But we know that numbers don't tell the whole story. And we know that being successful can be measured in other ways.

Maybe your story can demonstrate success because you showed you can overcome obstacles. College is going to be full of unexpected obstacles. Being able to demonstrate that you can adapt, change, adjust, improvise, and persevere is a powerful way to show that you will be successful. It is a story that numbers can't fully tell.

Maybe your story can demonstrate success because you showed you are willing to take chances and challenge yourself. Being successful in college is not about just following a checklist, it requires you to push yourself and challenge yourself. Telling a story that includes evidence that you are not afraid to push yourself is a way of demonstrating that you can be succesful.

Success in college requires a bit of confidence. Confidence means knowing yourself, knowing your strengths, knowing when you need to seek out help, knowing what you are capable of. It is hard to demonstrate confidence with numbers. It is much easier to do it with your story.

Successful students don't do it alone. They have communities of support. Colleges know that the most successful students are those that are engaged with others. Can you demonstrate that you will be a successful college student by telling a story about your engagement with various communities of support? The way that you connected with co-learners, teachers, advisors, parents, friends. The story is yours but it probably includes a bunch of other people. Tell that story as a way of showing that you will be a successful student at college.

Successful students learn outside the classroom. A lot of what you will learn in college will be outside of the classroom. Can your Story demonstrate a learner who doesn't need a formal classroom or teacher to engage with the world? Travel, internships, jobs, volunteering, real world projects, independent research, creating/doing/discovering, these are ways to show that you can be successful in more ways than taking a quiz and following a syllabus.

Successful students have goals and find ways to reach them. But really successful students understand that goals might change or reaching a goal might require you to adapt and adjust. Your story can demonstrate that you have experience working towards a goal. It probably also includes plenty of times that you had to make adjustments. Your story doesn't need to be a straight line. Most people's life stories are full of unexpected turns, changes of heart, and finding new opportunities. You can demonstrate that you know how to live life as a journey. Colleges know that students change majors, discover new life goals, and encounter unexpected obstacles in the course of their studies. Your story can show that you already know how to do that.

Success in college is more than a numbers game.

By Telling Your Story you are already demonstrating that you understand there are many paths to success and many obstacles to overcome. You are demonstrating that you know that it isn't a numbers game. It is a complex, complicated, adventurous story. The first step in demonstrating that you can be successful is demonstrating that you understand what success means.

Can you demonstrate that you are a match for this college?

The second question you need to answer for the college you are applying to is, are you a good match? Are you, as a person, a good match for us? Are we, as an institution, a good match for you?

It sounds kind of simple but it is an important question for them.

Even if you can demonstrate that you can be successful as a student, they still need to know if it makes sense for you to be a student at their school.

Do they have the programs and majors that you want to study?

Is the location and type of school (private/public, large/small, competitive/open, traditional/non-traditional) a match?

Do they have the type of campus, facilities, faculty, extra curriculars, reputation that is a match for you?

Do you have any personal experience with this college (you took a class here, you have a relative who is an alumnus, you have visited, you have done your research)?

Do you understand the history, reputation, personality, vision, goals of this college? And do they match your own goals?

Are you someone who is going to contribute to making the college a better place? Will you engage with the community? Will seek out ways to give back? Will you fit in?

For the college, this is a hard question to figure out. The typical numbers (grade point average, SAT/ACT) don't really tell them much. They can look at your extra curricular activities, what clubs you joined, what leadership opportunities you participated in, what sports you played. They can also read your essay and see if you say the right things. But students have learned how to game their extra curriculars and how to craft an essay to say the right things. But you will have a story. Your story will be much harder to game. Your Story will not only help answer the question of whether you and the college are a match, your story will help you make the match in the first place.

As you can probably tell from the questions above, finding a college that is a good match for you can be hard. There are a lot of things to consider. But you have been on a Learning Journey. You have experience making decisions about your learning. You understand yourself as a learner. You know your strengths. You know how to seek out help. You know how to create your own Learning Opportunities. You know how to put yourself in the best position to be successful. That is what your Learning Journey is all about.

Finding a college that is a good match for you feel like a natural part of your Learning Journey. Telling a story that shows that you are a good match for that college should also feel like a natural part of Telling Your Story.

At the point in the Journey you should be able to say ...

Here is what I want to do next.

Here is why I want to do that.

Here is the evidence that shows why this next step makes sense.

The question, "are you a match for us and are we a match for you?" should emerge naturally from your Learning Journey. It should be a natural part of Your Story.

What Will Your Story Look Like?

Nuts and bolts. What is Your Story going to look like?

Well partly, everyone's will look a little different. And partly, we have a structure to them.

When we send of an "official transcript" to a college on your behalf or if you send in our "transcript" as a supplemental document. It will have a basic structure.

It will have a section of required information like your name, birthdate, graduation date (or expected graduation date).

It will have a section explaining how operates, what we expect of our students, and explaining our terminology like Learning Opportunities and Learning Journey.

It will have a listing of your Learning Opportunities (title and brief description)

It will have a listing of any Learning Opportunities you took with another formal institution (college, high school, etc)

It will have a narrative section explaining Your Story (goals, accomplishments, challenges, etc)

It will have a link to a digital portfolio (optional).

It will include a date for your expected graduation.

We will also attach a copy of's "school profile". This is a standard document that explains the background on, its philosophy, methods, and history.

In total it will be at least four pages and can total many more (depending on your story.)

The reality is that our "official transcript" doesn't look like a traditional transcript. Sometimes colleges ask us for an explanation or for more details. Usually they accept it just fine. And even the few times they have asked for clarification, we have been able to answer their questions and they have been satisfied.

It is not unusual for admissions counselors to be very complimentary about our process. They enjoy being able to have a more complete, holistic picture of the applicants.

We have had graduates who have used our transcripts to get admitted to large public universities, small private universities, art schools, music schools, and lots of schools in between. Our students have been admitted into competitive schools, invited to honors colleges, and received merit scholarships. The lesson we have learned is that living your life authentically, going on a Learning Journey, doing things your own way, not being afraid to take an alternative path is not going to limit you going to college. If anything, it might give you an advantage.

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