7 Lessons The Hunger Games Can Teach You about College Admissions

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The Hunger Games trilogy is a tale of competition, relationships, betrayal, and success. Sound familiar? At StudentAdvisor.com, we see some pretty close parallels between The Hunger Games and the “College Admissions Games.”  To celebrate the release of the film adaptation of the second book in the series, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, we wanted to share some college admissions pointers from Katniss and Peeta.

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Follow these 7 lessons from The Hunger Games to survive the bizarre world of college admissions:

1. Admissions Can Seem Random

Although there is a system to college admissions, it’s not that different from “the reaping” that sets the stage for The Hunger Games trilogy. Prim and Peeta are originally picked to be tributes randomly from thousands of names. Some colleges adhere to a fairly strict algorithm for admission, but it’s likely that when you start seeing where your friends are accepted and rejected, the process can seem totally random. You may question why your friend was accepted somewhere you weren’t, and it may seem just like the indiscriminate selection of tributes.

Try to remember that the admissions process comes with some amount of uncertainty, no matter how stellar your application. Trust that you will be accepted to the colleges that are meant for you, just as Katniss is meant to step in to protect her sister and become a force for change in Panem.

2. You Have to Compete with Your Friends

Katniss and Peeta have known each other since they were young children. They aren’t close friends in the beginning, but they are still reluctant to compete against each other in the arena. The games are designed so that the competitors must look out for themselves in the end. Despite the every-man-for-himself atmosphere, Katniss and Peeta find a way to work together and help each other survive. In the sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, they wind up facing the same dilemma—they’re pitted against people they care about. They both vow to ensure the success of the other and join with other previous victors to outsmart the system.

When applying to colleges, you may be applying to many of the same schools as your friends. You may want to win at all costs and do everything you can to outshine your friends in order to get accepted to that coveted school. However, like Katniss and Peeta have taught us, everyone can win if we work closely together. Trade tips about tours, essays, and interviews with your friends and avoid burning bridges or ruining relationships. You’re all in the same metaphorical “arena.” By working together, you and friends can all end up surviving the admissions process and landing at great schools.

3. You Don’t Know Who You’re Competing Against (and Some People Have Been Preparing Forever)

In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the protagonists are thrown into the arena once again with 22 other victorious tributes from all over the nation. Some of the victors are from the Career alliance, who train to be a part of the games since they are born, while some, like Katniss and Peeta, are not formally trained for combat and must rely on their skills and instincts for success. Although the Careers have the advantage of being physically and psychologically prepared for the games, they underestimate the strength and will of Katniss.

When applying to a school, your application can be one of thousands. Some of the other applicants may have parents who are alumni, some may have been preparing to apply to the specific college their whole lives, and some may have applied on a last-minute whim. It’s not worth your time or energy to compare yourself with other students in the applicant pool. Concentrate on your strengths and best qualities (whether it’s your SAT scores or your ability to skin rabbits) and rely on those to get ahead.

[These 5 easy steps can help you complete your applications in no time.]

4. College Admissions and The Hunger Games Start When You’re 12

At age 12, your name is entered into the pool to be a tribute in The Hunger Games. This may seem too young or too unfair. For selections like Rue and Finnick, the choice isn’t up to them, and they had to do their best at a young age.

Many people don’t start thinking about college admissions when they’re in 6th grade, but it doesn’t hurt. If you have a younger sibling or cousin, it may give them an edge to begin thinking about what subjects they’re best in, which activities they enjoy, and what college has to offer. Many college juniors and seniors who play an instrument or varsity sports start developing their skills in middle school.

5. It Helps to Find a Mentor

Haymitch may not have been  Katniss and Peeta’s first choice for a mentor, but he is certainly smart, experienced, and knowledgeable about the culture of the games. Take a look at your friends, parents, and teachers and find one or two people who you can truly trust throughout your admissions process.

The college application and admission process can be grueling and emotional, and it’s crucial to have someone who you can turn to for advice and support. Haymitch specializes in tough love—which college applicants can always use! Find someone who is willing to be honest with you throughout your process.

[Need help finding a mentor? Read these four tips.]

6. Brace Yourself for Unsuspecting Twists

In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the Capital uses the 75th anniversary of the games, the third Quarter Quell, to introduce special events and new twists. The new rules force Katniss and Peeta to return to face the danger for a second year in a row. This twist is meant to undermine any alliances the districts may have formed and crush the rising rebellion.

While Admissions officers can’t exert that kind of control over your application process, you will probably experience some bumps in the road. Some of the worst twists applicants faced this year came with the glitches in the new online Common Application system. Many of the kinks have been worked out, but they caused a lot of headaches for applicants.

As you prepare your applications and wait for responses, try to stay calm and expect the unexpected as much as possible. Be ready to problem solve and have patience. Unlike The Hunger Games, it’s likely that your application process will go relatively smoothly.

 7. Get Used to Playing Up Your Story

Katniss and Peeta fabricated an entire love story to get ahead in the first edition of The Hunger Games and have to continue their ruse in the sequel in order to protect their families. They even stage a public, yet somewhat disingenuous wedding.

Should you go so far in your college essay? Probably not. However, you can benefit from talking about a unique experience you’ve had. Did you go on an awesome service trip? Have you been inspired by someone else? Talk about how your experiences and influences have changed you and how that makes you a great potential college student. Applications essays are like Katniss’s screen time during The Hunger Games—it’s your time to shine and sell yourself.

[Still deciding on a college? Compare colleges on StudentAdvisor.]

How has your college admissions experience been like The Hunger Games?

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