What really matters at the end of senior year? A top student inventories his activities list

Photo of Eric by Anne Scearce

Student council. Check. 

Varsity soccer. Check. 

National Honors Society. Check.

Link crew. Honor guard. Church Finance Elder. Check. Check. Huh? 

It’s true. Eric, a hard-working, high-achieving, heavily committed senior, served as All Student Body Vice President, earned 2nd team all-metro as a soccer player, and helped his church strategize their budget as part of their finance committee.  

It goes without saying that Eric had a very busy high school career, and with multiple acceptances at impressive institutions like Santa Clara University, Pepperdine, University of San Diego, and Loyola Marymount, he offers some surprising advice to future graduates. 

“If I were to do it again I probably would have focused on one or two activities and spent more time just reading,” he says, “colleges want to see your passions. If you can effectively express these in the essay, that is equally if not more valuable than a top test score.” And if you were to read his common application essay, it appears Eric-the-rising senior anticipated Eric-the-graduating senior’s advice. 

With a lifetime fascination with money, business, and investment, Eric seized the admissions essay to revisit a childhood season where he devoted himself to his Penny Pinecone Corporation.

His essay opens, “When I was five years old, I knew how to make money grow on trees.” Eric’s business plan was simple: Convince the neighbors the acidic pine cones were killing their lawn, then offer to collect the evergreens’ unwanted offspring for one penny each.

Eric’s topic would simply be a cute story if it hadn’t taught him (and the neighbor kids) real lessons about finance and life. 

  1. Haters can become admirers: Everyone will laugh at you until they see you cruising down the street in your new red bike, purchased from your earnings. 
  2. Copy Cats come with the territory: Greta’s Gardening and Liam’s Lawncare wasted no time in competing for the landscaping jobs in the neighborhood. 
  3. Fads work both ways: Businesses end when five year olds gain years but lose time, when soccer and playdates compete for attention. 

*Pro tip: It hurts less if your parents have a garage to store your gloves and wagon.

When it came down to making his college selection, Eric put his recaptured wisdom to work. As he compared university annual scholarships ranging from 6,000 to 18,000 to 23,000, he not only totaled dollars but measured how each school addressed his passions. 

Next year, Eric plans to attend Santa Clara because, as Eric explains, the university features a the Leavey School of Business, with a strong finance program, and has business relationships in the Silicon Valley, which all help him land an internship. Eric also values that SCU Jesuit school, a place where Eric knows he’ll receive a holistic education.

Driven students like Eric often are misunderstood as overly fixated on achievement. But for Eric, he’s really been aiming for something quite different.

When he thinks back on writing his admission essay, he notes the process pushed him to find his inspiration, something Eric says is tough to capture in a classroom.

Not only that but his essay came with a bonus: an excuse to reconnect with a few old buddies. “I ended up talking to my neighborhood friends about the Penny Pinecone Corporation,” says Eric, “And we all had a good laugh.”

Victoria Payne is a writing coach, story consultant, copywriter, and founder of Boxcar Writing Labs. She writes about the heroic little choices individuals and businesses make every day that make the world a better place. A former English professor, Victoria believes stories are the common language we speak to each other. 

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Story Matters

The stories we tell about ourselves matter. The stories about where we come from, what we are doing now, and where we are going…it all matters. The story of where you came from can even point you in the direction of where you’re going next.

Psychology believes that folks with a ‘coherent life narrative’ are more capable of overcoming painful life events and living a healthy, whole life. In fact, the ‘coherent life narrative’ is a predictor of the health of present and future relationships.
John Gottman, famed marriage researcher, uses a tool to predict with roughly 90% accuracy whether or not a couple will remain married. Can you guess what it is?
Yep, it’s a story. It’s the story of how they met. But what’s most fascinating is that it’s not the content of the story but how they tell the story, and that couples that learn to change the way they tell the story can actually improve the relationship.
So, what’s your story? Are you the weary traveler beaten down by life or the constant disappointment to yourself and others? Or are you the underdog, the changed protagonist, the brave hero?
Whoever you are and wherever you’re going look to your story. Either way, it’s your kryptonite or your superpower.
But here’s the good news. R E V I S I O N. To see again. Take another look. Re-imagine your story and reimagine your life. Put words to the story and override the old narrative or crystallize the one you want.
“Language does not just describe reality. Language creates the reality it describes.” –Desmond Tutu

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