Alex Blum, 17, is a poet at heart. So the Scottsdale senior at Desert Mountain High School finds it difficult to describe his entire life’s achievements in the cold, fill-in-theblanks forms that dominate college applications.
"I’d hope I can’t express my entire being in two or three pages of writing," he said. "There are aspects you just can’t show."
Essay prompts that come standard on each application give Blum more freedom to express himself. As have many high school seniors, Blum has spent countless hours crafting his responses, hoping to impress college admissions officials.
Blum knows he is facing some tough competition. He is one of four East Valley students with dreams of the Ivy League or other top-tier colleges the Tribune is tracking this year.
"The image I want to emphasize is: I’m someone who is going to bring change or make something new at the school," Blum said. "I like learning for the sake of learning. At school I’ve gotten good grades, but it’s not just to get the grades — it’s to learn."
It’s a lot to pack into his early application due Nov. 1 at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
Duke’s application, like many at prestigious universities, requires not only basic personal information about family, grades, test scores and student activities, but recommendations from teachers and a guidance counselor. And several writing samples.
And this is only one of about 10 applications Blum will complete before his college search is over.
The longest, he said, can take six to eight hours to complete. The easiest one he has done thus far has been the University of Arizona — his "backup" school — which he said took only about 30 minutes to complete online.
One Duke writing prompt asked about a significant experience that changed him.
He wrote about performing in a school poetry slam last year, using a bit of humor and sarcasm to describe his jittery nerves before going on stage and reading his own writing to an audience.
"I embarked upon an adventure to unknown territory," a rough draft reads. "Much like Columbus’ men, I thought I would probably die."
Next, he described his performance: "One big breath in and and I let the words escape from my mouth. As I speak, a bottled up passion and emotion spill from unknown origins deep within me."
He ended by applying the lesson to life: "Only by taking risks and leaving the comfort zone does someone become a bigger person," he wrote.
In a second essay, Blum described how participating in a diversity and leadership camp, where he spent part of the day with his eyes covered, helped him to understand what it would be like to be blind.
His parents help him with editing his essays, and he has asked an English teacher to proofread them, too, he said.
But even with strong essays, Blum is worried he won’t be accepted,
estimating he has only a 50-50 chance. "There are just so many kids applying, you can do everything right and you can still get rejected," he said.
APPLICATION PROCESS SETS TEMPE SENIOR ON JOURNEY OF SELF-DISCOVERY
Filling out college forms has inspired Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School senior Vinayak Muralidhar to think about life and who he wants to become.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Muralidhar’s first choice for college next year — has a section in its application packet that asks students to give
The other day when he was practicing behind the wheel for his driver’s license test, he had an epiphany while stopped at an intersection with about 40 other cars. He looked around at the motorists and was struck with the notion that everybody was living their own busy lives — just like him — with places to go and people to see.
Muralidhar, 16, said science has taught him to take risks, and he will take that approach with his essays. "Go big or go home" is his motto.
"The most important thing is to make it you," he said. "Put yourself on the paper."
a reflection of their life in 500 words or less. "The whole thing is a self-discovery process," he said.
GILBERT SCHOLAR WILL FOCUS ON MOVE FROM CHINA
Mesquite High School senior Leslie Shen, 17, has been brainstorming since summer on how to approach her college application essays. "I’m just worrying about how I want to show them the person that I am," she said.
Shen has 500 words to present her life to the people that could make her Ivy League dreams come true — Harvard admissions officials. Shen said she’ll write about one of her most influential experiences: Her immigration to the U.S. from China. She’ll also describe how she uses painting as a form of personal expression.
"When you start, you just have bits and pieces of different ideas," she said. "In the end, you want them to all fit together (and present) the best picture of yourself that you can."
MESA STUDENT SETS SIGHTS ON IN-STATE SCHOOL
Reality has set in for Dobson High School senior Jessica Guo.
The Mesa student had high hopes of attending Columbia University in New York, but now she says it’s "too expensive" and is setting her sights on in-state schools — despite an impeccable résumé.
She’s ranked in the top five of her graduating class and scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT. Guo also plays violin, writes for the school newspaper, volunteers in the community and belongs to Dobson’s We the People team.
"At this point, I’m not really suited to be an Ivy League dreamer," she said.
She still plans to send in her application to Columbia in January, but for now she’s busy applying for scholarships such as the Flinn Foundation award.
"ASU’s Barrett Honors College is one of the best in the nation," she said.