Top of the Class

#1 College Tips - Former UChicago Admission Officer, Steve Han, on Putting Passion into Applications

February 03, 2021 Crimson Education Season 2 Episode 1
Top of the Class
#1 College Tips - Former UChicago Admission Officer, Steve Han, on Putting Passion into Applications
Top of the Class
#1 College Tips - Former UChicago Admission Officer, Steve Han, on Putting Passion into Applications
Feb 03, 2021 Season 2 Episode 1
Crimson Education

We hear all the time that Admission Officers want to see "passion" but how do you get passion on paper for your application?

Crimson Education Strategist and former UChicago Admission Officer, Steve Han, gives his advice and some of top tips to stand out from the crowd.

This is the first episode of the new College Tips series featuring experts from Crimson Education. We'll be back with more amazing student interviews next episode!

Show Notes Transcript

We hear all the time that Admission Officers want to see "passion" but how do you get passion on paper for your application?

Crimson Education Strategist and former UChicago Admission Officer, Steve Han, gives his advice and some of top tips to stand out from the crowd.

This is the first episode of the new College Tips series featuring experts from Crimson Education. We'll be back with more amazing student interviews next episode!

Podcast Host  00:16

Hello, and welcome to the first episode of the college chats podcast. It's a new series of the top of the class where we're going to be focusing on college admissions. And I'm delighted to have former US Chicago admission officer and now current Crimson senior strategist Steve Hahn with us today, Steve, welcome to college chats. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? 

Steve Han  00:38

Yeah, for sure. So, yeah, my name is Steve. I currently live in Los Angeles, California. Previously, I've lived in New York and Korea and Florida. I went to the University of Chicago, where I graduated in 2017. With a BA in biology. I now work as with Crimson as a senior strategist. I also work as a full time actor and comedians. I do TV and commercial work. Yes. And then, in Chicago, I worked. I worked with the admissions office a lot at the University of Chicago. So I've been working there since 2013. And I read admissions from 2016 to 2018. So I help them get the classes of 2021 and 2022. That's pretty much my background.

Podcast Host  01:19

And you're the the Tik Tokker.

Steve Han  01:22

I am the Tik Tokker. I Tik Tok with Sam for Crimson, for Crimson as well.

Podcast Host  01:28

So yeah, for students out there having a listen to the podcasts, maybe they can go ahead and listen to the tick tock, and vice versa, potentially, as well. Maybe new Tick Tock is joining us on the podcast brought over by your fame. And and I love it, I love it. I mean, what a random career path I guess you've had in terms of like studying biology, to be into the admissions office to be doing comedy. And now we're doing Tick Tock. I'm going to guess it's been a bit of a wild ride. But do you enjoy the role as being a currency strategist?

Steve Han  01:57

Yeah, it's great. I always say the admissions process is like a board game that someone's mom lost the instruction manual to so no one knows how to play the game. And everyone's guessing, like, what works and what doesn't work. And my job is just to provide some clarity and provide an instruction manual, essentially, just to make it make a little bit more sense. That's essentially it.

Podcast Host  02:18

I love that analogy. I think everybody's got at least one of those games lying around the house, which, you know, you're just trying to look at the cover of it, and just trying to figure out what is this game all about? Based on cover image? Right. So what are we chatting about today? What kind of topic? Do you want to delve into a little bit more?

Steve Han  02:33

Yeah, I think talking a little bit more about what passion looks like, on an application. And I think that, for me, personally, as someone that's read admissions, and for me when I applied to college, you know, I, I got into, you know, a few Ivy League plus schools. So, you know, I ended up going to University Chicago, so I think, um, you know, the, the biggest thing for me is just how to indicate passion on like paper, essentially.

Podcast Host  02:57

Yeah, I think it's such an interesting topic, because I think it's such a vague one as well, in many respects, like, you know, students are often told follow your passions, and who knows exactly what that is, or how to then express it in an application, I think super important. So from your side of things, yeah. How does passion come across in an application and what students can do to make sure that they're presenting their quote, unquote, passion in the best way possible?

Steve Han  03:21

Yeah. So yeah, it is totally a phrase that we hear all the time words. Yeah, students are told, and it's hard from young age to know what your passions are. Because you're, you're, you know, you're only 16 1718. And you haven't lived as much life as like, you know, someone like you, you were I have, for example, and it's just, it's hard to pinpoint that. So I think a big a big misconception that a lot of students have about the admissions process is that they have to be, like amazing at everything that they'd like 10,000 things right. They think that they have to be like a math competition star, but they also have to be Allstate orchestra. And they also have to No, there's just there's this misconception about like, everything that goes into being a stellar applicant. And I think something to keep in mind is that an admissions office is not making a class of well rounded students. They're making a well rounded class of stellar students. Right? That's the main thing, right? is that it's a Do you play Pokemon?

Podcast Host  04:14

I have dabbled in Pokemon. Yes. Okay.

Steve Han  04:17

I use this metaphor, because I do mostly work with like stem thirds, which is my brother, brother. That's me. Yeah, I always thought that right? If you are listening to this, and you're a Pokemon fan, but you know, we're not making like an Ash Ketchum, like the lead of the TV show, or make who has like one of every type of Pokemon we're making like an OBE for or like, like a gym or making like, you have to just like being specialized helps you in this case, right? Which doesn't mean like, you can't be good at a bunch of things. That's not what we're saying. If you are the kind of person that is well rounded like that, I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but don't feel the pressure to do a bunch of different things. Because what passion ends up looking like on application is that it really comes out in your essays more than anything because you can write almost anything to like look good and activity list or a resume or whatnot, because it's just listing things. But in your essays, it really comes across when someone when a student is really passionate about a topic or really excited about a topic, it is way more enjoyable for me as a reader to read it. But it also just gives us a chance for adding three dimensionality to an essay or to an application. Because otherwise, you know, if you look at me, for example, you know, in high school, I was a math star, I didn't also orchestrated varsity swimming, I was like, pretty like, good at a lot of different things. But you know, if you took my statistics, there's a lot of students that probably look like me across the country, my school, even my city. And the thing that added like flavor and color and texture to my application, were my essays, right, where I have a sense of humor. So my essays, not only one of my essays was serious, but the rest of them were all, you know, like, pretty facetious and light hearted. So, you know, when I used to bring students into a room to like, argue for their case, in the admissions process, I would never refer to them as like, by their test score, or their grades or whatever. It was always like, oh, remember that kid that wrote about XYZ, right? My favorite essay I still ever read from you, Chicago was this essay that you would never thought the student would have written this essay It was about. His application was like very stem focused. He had done a lot of research, like a lot of math sciences. But his essay, the question that year was like, combined to historical figures, or pop culture figures or whatever make like, write us a story about this new person's biography. And we got a lot of like, fine answers for that one. But he was my favorite one, because he wrote about, he combined, Lil Kim, the rapper with Kim Jong moon. So it was low Kim Jong moon, and it was this, it was really it was so it was just stupid is the best way to put it. It was so good. So funny. So you know, and his passion. Ultimately, what we found through the essay was he's a really big into pop culture, like he was a quizbowl star. And his position, I guess, on the on the clinical team was pop culture, even though you can't really write about that an activity list. So it became very evident to us that that was just as passion. So passion doesn't have to have like, I think that's another thing is that students think that there needs to be like an external metric of success for passion. And that's not the case at all right, you're able to quote you, you can have qualitative metrics of success that you define internally for an essay. So yeah, that was a long way of saying, you know, passion really comes across in your essay. So write about things that actually are of interest to you. Because a lot of essays we get our, as an admissions office reader is, you know, a lot of them are like, pretty, are they just, they lack passion. So a lot of them are read in such a way where they're like, my name is this, I am interested in business, you know, they list their resume out essentially, under or their activity list, which we recommend not doing on your essay, it should be a chance to show another facet of your application. So yeah, I think like, allow something that's actually of interest to you, whether you're serious or silly, or whatever, in between, like, showcase that on paper. 

Podcast Host  07:44

Yeah, I think passion is such an interesting topic, particularly for students, as you said, they might not have necessarily had the chance to do some of the things that they might be passionate about. So say, for instance, as a student who's really passionate about astrophysics, or building cars, or whatever it might be, but at school, they might not have had like, the opportunity to go out and actually do those things as yet. So most of their passion would be based on either their readings of other people who are building cars, and those kinds of things. Is that still legit passion if the student can show that through their essays and extracurriculars?

Steve Han  08:17

Yeah, of course. I mean, I think another thing that students forget is that the stellar cases that you see in the news and whatnot, they they compare themselves to those students who are like on Shark Tank at the age of 16, or Yeah, you know, are Olympians or whatever. And one really important thing to remember is that an admissions office is really hyper cognizant, most of the time about barriers of access their barriers of entry, you know, knowing the difference between like access and equity for, you know, a student coming from x area versus y area, right? Like, you know, we take that into account 100%, because we that's why we asked for a lot of other forms that you have to submit because, again, your school gives us a school report. So there's, there's a lot of reasons for that, so that it gives us understanding. So just because you want to be a you know, an astronaut one day, but you haven't done like a NASA training program, as a high schooler doesn't mean that we're not going to like MIT will accept you, right? There are a lot of ways to engage passion beyond just what ultimately our points of access to like, you know, points of privilege or whatnot, right. So especially nowadays, I think the conversation is way more moving towards equity versus equality, equity rather than equality. And so, you know, for a student if, if you're worried about your passion, not necessarily being as, like I mentioned earlier, a quantitative metric of success. Don't worry, there's a lot of ways to qualify that explain that add texture to your application to be able to showcase it in a different kind of way. I mean, for me, for example, I really loved comedy for a long time. I never knew I could do comedy professionally in any kind of capacity. But I showcase my interest in comedy and pop culture as well by writing by every single one of my essays. And that just showed up for me even though I had never done like an MVC fellowship right and never done like I wrote 30 rock, the TV show you have in a lot of my essays. Even though like I'd never done a page internship, but nothing in my application would scream, this guy should go into comedy one day except for my essays. But you know, that's when I talked to my admissions officer. He was like, yeah, we remember you. I was like the funny, like the random funny kid from Florida. You know?

Podcast Host  10:14

Nice, nice, nice. Well, one of my other questions on passion is, I think a lot of students confuse being really good at a subject with their passion as well. So they might say, Well, I'm really good at maths. But they might not necessarily like love it, they only enjoy it, because they're really good at it. So yeah. Is that something that an admissions officer is able to tell the difference about? And if a student is really good at something, but isn't yet really passionate about it? How do you perhaps convert that into a passion? Or what would be your recommendations for a student? Who's in that situation? Who says, Well, I'm really good at a whole lot of subjects, but I can't really see anything that I'm necessarily passionate about right now.

Steve Han  10:54

Yeah, I mean, well, first off, what's easier to remember in college that like most universities that this the students that are looking towards probably aren't like trade schools where you would only be doing like one thing so keep in mind when you're when you're good at a subject that will help you in college even if you're not necessarily going to major in it because generally a college course breakdown is a 34 classes, at least American universities. A third of your courses are your major a third are your general electives. And then third are general requirements. And a third are your your electives. You have like room in your schedule. And part of it is that you have to be able to have a lot of diversity of thoughts in your course load. So just because you're good at something doesn't mean that it's going to stop as soon as you go to college academically speaking at least right extracurricular Li, that's a different story. But you know, I'm definitely that won't stop in terms of how to convert something like not like being good at math, but not necessarily being passionate about it. I asked a student that pursued not and I say this as someone that I liked it not competitions from third grade till the day I I missed my high school graduation to go to a math competition. Like I was doing it till the summer after I graduated, I was doing math competitions for my school that my team, so I get it, but I'm not like, I'm not gung ho about math, I just I know I'm good at it. I realized maybe too late on in my high school career that I was passionate about winning, which is not not not a good enough reason to do something. But it's not about winning. And I knew that the easiest way for me to get there was math, right? So for me, having gone through it, and not being able to explore that I challenge the student into thinking, you know, if, if you are good at math, let's say but and you continue to do it, but you're not necessarily passionate about it. Think about like, what about the experience of math is deriving joy for you from it? Because it might not be the math itself. It might be like the camaraderie, it might be the competitive aspect, whatever, how can you dissect your experience in this certain thing into a discrete unit, take that out, isolate it and think about what other realms are there for me to explore as a high school student that still allow me to derive joy from this like specific facet of something that I'm good at. Right. So in math again, for me, I really enjoyed winning, and I enjoyed the camaraderie right. So for me, I ended up doing more like Student Government volunteer work, too, right. And that ended up being a really like, big joy of mine as well, my senior year of high school. So, you know, it's, I think it's a lot easier said than done. But you can find points of joy derivation, I guess, from things that you're good at. And then once you are able to identify that zoom in and magnify that and then find where passion can kind of filter through that lens.

Podcast Host  13:21

Yeah, I think that's a such a good tip. So yeah, it's kind of like not necessarily focusing on the big picture here is kind of like focusing on the niche type of thing. Like why do you enjoy math? Is it not necessarily because of the problem solving or that kind of stuff? Maybe it is, you know, the fact that you enjoy sitting next to the person in class, what's that connection that you have with that person, and explore that a little bit more explore the, you know, the winning side of things as you did and rescind your graduation, to enter Mexico, which is pretty cool. Okay, so we've explored passions, and I think we could explore this a lot more. For students who are interested in wanting to explore their passion, little bit more, maybe they could, you know, request a academic consultation with an academic advisor, I'll put a link down in the show notes for that. But let's get into the top tips for students to stand out to be the top of the class, we've covered a few bits and pieces already, but through your experiences, which are many and varied, what would be one or two of your top tips for students to stand out?

Steve Han  14:16

Yeah, my first top tip would be start practicing your personal statement early, like start practicing writing that that 650 word personal statement limit that exists in the US at least is really niche and hard to hit naturally. And a lot of students are really bad at talking about themselves, like surprisingly. So I mean, I can't relate to that because I talk about myself way too much. But you know, for if you are bad at talking to yourself, that's okay. And that's actually probably good and your mental health is probably much more stable than mine. But what I will say is, you know, when you are, if you are bad talking about yourself, you need to practice being able to advocate for yourself and talking about yourself and answering a question that is about you, right, a lot of admissions questions aren't trying to trick you, but students get really tripped up in them, right. So for example, a really common essay ends up like is asking the question of writing about someone that's really inspired you or your that you look up to. It's a really common essay topic. And most students end up writing the entire essay about like this teacher that they'd hoped was amazing and blah, blah, blah. And I'm like, that's great. But this school is not admitting that person, the school is admitting you so you have to remember how to bring it back to you. Right? So is that answering the question? Why are they a good teacher answer the question, why are they a good teacher? For you? Why are they specifically a good teacher? For you? What are the qualifications that you need to a teacher to meet to be able to be satisfactory to you? And why did they go above and beyond that right for you. So being able to bring it back to you is a really hard skill to hone in. But the students that have been practicing personal statements or writing an if statements are you know about themselves tend to do better in the essay arena. So that will always help a student. That's number one. And number two, if you're listening to this in ninth and 10th grade, my biggest recommendation is invest in yourself and allow yourself to go out for things that might scare you and build a diversity of interests for yourself. Because you are one allowing yourself to pick and choose from the best options for yourself when you get older when you are busier, and you have to hone in and go more depth rather than breadth. But to you know it, it just allows you to embed yourself so that when you apply as a senior, you have four years of experience to pull from your four years of experience to talk about your four years of experience going into university so that if you were to continue it, for example, you already have a plethora of experience as a first year rather than you know, needing to catch up as a first year. And I mean, so yeah, yeah. So invest yourself both with extracurriculars and practicing writing.

Podcast Host  16:30

Steve, thanks so much for sharing your wisdom on the college chats today. It's been awesome having you on. As a quick reminder, you can request a free one hour consultation with a local Crimson academic advisor, there is a link in the show notes. And that will help you get you started on your journey to the world's top universities. And I hope students have learned a little bit more about how to put passion onto paper for their application.

Steve Han  16:53

Yeah, of course. Thanks for having me.