Last Lap to Regular Decision: a Q&A with Kevin Sim

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Like many of you reading this right now, Xingjian (currently in Washington University) once ran this last lap as well.

MO: As applicants rush to complete RD applications, what advice do you have for essays?

KS: I think there is a need to not believe that there is a magic essay out there waiting to be written. Because the essay is the only ‘moveable’ part of the application, it is often easy to forget that it is only one part of an extensive review of your application.

MO: But because it is the only part that is ‘changeable’ now, do you not think that it should be the focus?

KS: Focus, yes. But do not Instagram your essays! Overwrought essays, essays which have been re-done to death are pretty much like Instagram photos which you look and know they are not representative of the reality – they have been warped beyond the original reality, filtered to fantasy. When one reads an essay and gets that feeling one gets from looking at an over-doctored/revised photo, it is easy to discount what one reads.

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Photo of the sunset at Maldives, taken by Kevin Sim himself. Just like how your essays
should be like, 
he did not apply any Instagram filters.

MO: Let’s change the circumstances, what if a candidate receives a rejection from his/her ED school? Is that sufficient reason to go back and redo the essay?

KS: Schools reject people for various reasons. Lack of fit. Not a good match at various levels. Over-reaching your early choice. Or just a lack of space despite the fact you are a great candidate. Not often for an essay. But of course, if you did not manage to produce a compelling essay, it would be great to work on it with the days you have left before the deadline.

MO: So how hard should one try with essays?

KS: Well, look at the crazy videos people have been producing on Facebook and Youtube to get likes; same reason why people filter sunsets on Instagram to look as if they were on Jupiter having cucumber sandwiches. The purpose of the admission essay is NOT to get attention. The purpose of the essay to help the reader appreciate the rest of your application in your own voice, to provide a context.

MO: What about getting help?

KS: That is dangerous territory, haha. There is a whole industry crafted out of producing essays-that-get-you-in. Essays do not get you in; yes it helps to have a compelling essay. But how would a stranger help you write something that is compelling about you? There basically are no formulas out there – everybody is hazarding a guess; admission rubric differs from college to college and admission ‘tastes’ change from year to year. Best fall back to your own counselor who has had the privilege of working with you and knowing you through your high school years.

MO: So as the first counselor in Singapore, and the oldest, what do you have to say when working with your kids on their essays?

KS: It is tough. Kids have been taught to view themselves in a way which I do not believe does them justice. I mean, after being brought up believing that they are an aggregation of their grades, awards and activities, they find it hard understanding why I might be more interested in them as individuals. I want to hear their stories of failure, their secret dreams and projects, things that they do which ‘do not matter in admissions’ – even if it is perfecting the baking of a chocolate cake because their grandmother loves chocolate cake. I think it is from here where kids find materials for expressing who they are, to giving a better context to understand what kind of applicants they are. To re-evaluate themselves beyond the rubric of academic excellence and shopping-list-achievements. Some kids get it. Some kids don’t. It takes time. And kids have to balance all these in Singapore alongside their crazy exams, SATs and all.

MO: Any last advice to the applicants?

KS: At this point: your school list. Be smart. Keep an open mind. There are great schools out there beyond your list. Institutions do not and should not define you and what is to come. You define yourself. So there is seriously no need to feel that NEED to attend one particular school (or set of schools), otherwise you are literally hitching your future to the bandwagon driven by someone else.

Javan Lee

Budding biologist. Does genotyping for his bred Pokemon.

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