View Full Version : Maximising your Chances: THEME-ing your Application

10-06-2012, 04:58 PM
The following is a brief guide for all aspiring US university applicants. The author is a recent high school graduate who has been admitted to Stanford, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, UMich, UIUC amongst others. Feel free to reply to this thread with any questions regarding US university applications! :)

Competition only gets stiffer. Regardless of university or scholarship application, odds are always stacked against candidates, unless they are sufficiently prepared. To be sufficiently prepared, you need to know what your assessors are looking out for. What makes you stand out from the crowd?

On 1 January 2012, more than two million Common Application forms were submitted in total for US university applications. Yes, two million. So there are about 20 US universities that Singaporeans usually apply for, including the Ivy League. Each university takes in about 1,000 undergraduates. 20,000 out of 2,000,000. 1% chance. Oh and the 1000 undergraduates consists of US citizens and PRs primarily; the admit rates of internationals hover around 10% of the entire admitted cohort. So about 100 internationals per school, 2000 out of 2,000,000. 0.1% chance. And wait! That’s not all. Singapore is a ‘little red dot’. What about the up-and-coming India and China where parents and children are fiercely determined to be admitted to an elite university?

International student is not defined as Singaporean student only; it is defined as anyone who lives in the world and not in USA.

You get the picture. Competition is grim. But then again, you look around your friends and seniors who have been admitted and ask yourself “I just had lunch with that guy” or “I was studying right next to her in Physics class” and now s/he has gotten past the mind-boggling, crazy competition. How? More importantly, how do I do it?

THEME-ing your Application. What is that?

Your application needs a theme. In 5 words, I have summarized the best piece of advice I can ever give you, and what this whole post is about. So if you want to close this page now and go do something else, go ahead, but just remember those five words. Your application needs a theme.

Three little pigs went out to build their own houses. The first pig built his house using straw, and very soon, he was resting comfortably inside. The second pig built his house using mud; that took more effort, but sure enough, he was completed with the house very quickly. The third pig built his house using bricks; it took him a long time and a lot of hard work before his house was finally complete. Then one day, a big bad wolf came and wanted to eat the pigs. The wolf went to the first pig, huffed and puffed and blew the house down easily. The wolf then went to the second pig, huffed and puffed and tried again for an hour before destroying the house. The wolf finally went to the third pig, and no matter how hard he huffed and puffed, the house did not collapse. Finally, he gave up.

Sounds familiar? Yes, it is the story of the three little pigs and big bad wolf. Cliché? Definitely. But it teaches us three very important lessons in university application.

Lesson #1: The story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf has a theme.

The theme is that those who work hard will be rewarded and those who slack off will pay the price. Now that you have read the story above and understood the theme, don’t you think the theme sticks to your memory? So now, if I walked up to you as you hold this document and ask you “So, how’s the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf?”, you are probably not going to relate the whole story to me because you either forgot or are lazy to, but you are probably going to tell me “The story teaches us that those who work hard will be rewarded and those who slack off will pay the price.”
See the beauty of a theme? It sticks with you nicely as a summary; you will not forget it.

Your application is no different. University admission officers usually read your application before arguing before the entire admissions committee (made up of more admissions officers) whether they want you to be accepted or rejected.
Your name is the title of the story. Your name is like “The story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf.” The officer is going to be asked by the committee “So, how’s this applicant XYZ?”, just as how I ask you “So, how’s the story of the three little pigs and big bad wolf?”. The admission officer reading your application isn’t going to narrate your Common Application essay or your supplement essays to the admission committee. He is not going to present your C.V. because they just do not have the time and memory capacity to do so. What is he going to say? THE THEME OF YOUR APPLICATION.

The admissions officer can go “Err…I am not quite sure what this applicant has to offer to our university. S/he seems to be able to do everything to acceptable standards, but nothing spectacular.” Or, the officer can go “This applicant XYZ has demonstrated a very strong leadership capacity in community service. S/he spearheaded a national fund-raising effort that impressed me a lot.” Which would you prefer?

Lesson #2: The story of the three little pigs and big bad wolf. Cliché? Yes.

Each admission officer reads about a hundred over applications daily, over a period of 2-3 months. That means each office reads the ‘life stories’ of thousands of applicants. And that is for one year. Can you imagine the boredom and cliché they have read through? You think your story is new? You think you are really that ‘different’? Nah, your story has probably been told before by your seniors or by your peers who are of the same age as you. The admission officer has probably read thousands of stories about how a relative’s illness struck you, about how your parent’s nagging was valuable when you closely met with an accident, how your studies were failing until you decided one night to buck up and work till 4 am daily, surviving on caffeine shots to get your straight As.

Most applications, especially those without a theme, are as cliché as the story of the three little pigs and big bad wolf. Your theme gives you the chance to be really different and unique. Each and every essay you write probably has been written before, along the same lines. But when these essays are combined together, if done properly with a theme, they are not just unique, but also engaging and meaningful. Creating an application with a theme helps you stand out from the crowd (a very large one), and transforms the cliché into insights.

Lesson #3: Once you have a theme, you will NEVER run out of essay ideas.

The beauty of the theme lies within its never-ending source of creativity. The story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf has a theme. Once you have identified the theme, there are endless possibilities to express the theme. You can tell different stories but still convey the same theme. And really, thinking of these stories are so much simpler with a underlying objective: to express the theme.

You can use dogs, cats, giraffes, elephants, zebras and snakes instead of pigs; you can use lion, tiger, leopard, cougar instead of big bad wolf; in fact, you do not even have to use animals. We can change the whole scenario altogether and come up with ideas easily. The farmer who works hard during the planting season reaps a bountiful harvest a few months later and survives the village famine whilst the farmer who slacks off during the planting season reaps little harvest and falls ill during the village famine. Theme? Hard work pays off.

Really, once you have a theme, the sky is a limit; without a theme, each story is separate and leads to a weak application.

09-23-2016, 12:06 AM
I need to get a 30 on my ACT to apply to the schools I want. I heard Spark Prep SG can guarantee an increase of 4 points. Has anyone tried them here.

Friends in the Us have used them before.