I get it. You see a college essay prompt asking you about a future you haven’t lived yet, and it feels like a lie to say you already know what it will be.
Because who really knows, right? Life happens. Pandemics happen. People change their minds!
But colleges are asking and they will keep asking you to make up, speculate, yes, DREAM that future of yours. So even though it feels like wild speculation to say you know what you’ll be up to on a new campus two, three, or four years from now, it’s actually a really good exercise for sharing your unique self.
Here’s why you need to do some futurecasting, and how.
Why and when you speculate
The Powerful Conclusion. Whether it’s a short supplemental essay or the Personal Statement essay (over 500 words in many applications), you might need what I call a futurecasting conclusion. You might have room for three to five sentences where you connect the examples already shared (a big story or anecdotes) to a futurecasting image of you doing new things.
For example, let’s say you told a story about your love of video game design and how a humiliating loss at a gaming convention actually sparked your best design idea. Now wrap the essay up with a note about what you hope to study in college, or a note about which clubs and activities you might join, all of which relate to this passion. Let’s see the next version of you, the logical outcome of this current journey.
The Futurecasting Prompt. You might get a direct ask from a school to create your own science fiction. “It’s four years from now and you’re getting an award. Which award, and what’s your speech?” That type of time-traveling college essay prompt is a clear invitation to dream. You have to invent that future, and here’s how you do it.
- You tell them what you accomplished in college based on the logical next steps from your current and past accomplishments. Let’s say you played field hockey, wrote for the school paper, and served in student government in high school. Let’s see you extending and enhancing that triad of activities in college, with even more depth and resources than you could have imagined in high school.
- Or, you tell them how you are going to be blazing new trails taking your hobbies and passions that you barely had time for in high school (but maybe you chose to make the focus of a Personal Statement) and then start riffing off those cool dreams. Picture you playing ultimate frisbee instead of field hockey, and designing infographics for the college paper, rather than writing for them.
- Or if you want to be really bold, futurecast all the things you haven’t done and have been waiting till college to do. Talk about how you’re going to take those personality traits of risk-taking, persistence, and creativity to the next level by learning how to program video games and how to do improv.
It’s not a lie.
I have the great joy of working with highly ethical students who don’t want to lie. When they hesitate to speculate, here’s what I say:
- College admissions officers ask you to forecast because they want imaginative, reflective, visionary folks–not kids who look backwards.
- College essays are not a contract. No one will ever come back at you waving your essay years from now, asking you why you didn’t do these things.
- While this is definitely a job interview in front of strangers, how it’s really different than a job interview is that college admissions officers know you’re not grown. They don’t want you so formal, polished, stiff, and distant that you don’t let any specifics slip. Futurecasting is a kind of specific dreaming that you definitely want to do.
Obviously, be authentic.
There is one percent of the population that might read this post and take it as an invitation to go hog wild with speculation, dreaming up things that just aren’t you. I’ll go premed! I’ll learn the violin and how to rhumba! I’ll open a new business while taking more credits than any other kid on campus!
If none of these are you, then of course, don’t say it. Your dreams should have some tether to your present, some whiff of logic stemming from the unique character, personality, and individual that is you.
What Success Story does
One of the key coaching strategies I use is a futurecasting exercise, helping students dream a little while telling the stories of their past and present. I help students visualize the next version of themselves while explaining the strengths of these past versions. We connect the dots along lines of values, beliefs, and principles, telling that unique story that an individual can tell.
I’m here for a range of student needs and readiness. Let’s do some storytelling, and let’s do some futurecasting!