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The College Application Moral Bucket List: Turning Your Stumbles into Stories

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moral bucket list pen and pencil“Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions,” writes David Brooks in his recent article for the NY Times titled, “The Moral Bucket List.”

We’re sure you’ve heard this advice many times and in many ways from the adults in your lives. And guess what: you will hear it again throughout the college application process. (You still have next year’s graduation commencement speech to look forward to!) Some of you may already feel deeply committed to your hobbies, activities and random obsessions, be they robotics, slam poetry, or spelunking (which we happen to love). Others may find the advice to “follow your passions” to be useless or even intimidating. And that, dear students, is totally okay.

While people often ascribe an unfailingly positive label to people who follows their passions,” Brooks bucks this notion. In describing the kindest and most moral people in his life, he finds that instead of looking to their own desires, “They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?” A good life, according to Brooks, is a life of looking – not knowing. Many of you will find yourself at a juncture, both pre-application and post-graduation, where you are unsure of your future direction. You may, in fact, be what Brooks refers to as a “stumbler.” Stumblers are defined by honesty and self-awareness, not perfection or a glistening external persona. What makes a stumbler’s life compelling is the way he/she overcome challenges and addresses his/her own limitations. “The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others,” he says, “but by being better than she used to be.”

How have your experiences changed you or helped you discover new things about who you are? This is the kind of question “stumblers” ask – and it’s remarkably similar to the college essay prompts you will see over and over again during the next several months. So, as you begin to plan your approach, remember that stumbles don’t necessarily weaken your application. The story of a graceful recovery demonstrates resilience, self-awareness, and maturity, which are exactly the kinds of qualities that will make a difference to admissions officers at the school of your dreams.

(Read the whole “Moral Bucket List” at the New York Times.)

Check out more Tips for Brainstorming Essay Topics.

Read more about The College Essay Advisors Process.

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