The Internet has been ablaze with chatter the last few weeks over a controversial letter high school senior, Suzy Lee Weiss, wrote in the Wall Street Journal to all the colleges that rejected her. Here's an excerpt:
Colleges tell you, "Just be yourself." That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself! If you work at a local pizza shop and are the slowest person on the cross-country team, consider taking your business elsewhere.
You can read the entire letter here. Opinions of Ms. Weiss' letter have ranged from those that feel she speaks the truth to those that find her comments patently offensive. Aside from the polarizing nature of the letter, what struck me was the importance of building a personal brand, even in high school.
Regardless of which college you aspire to attend, you need to offer something of value. Elite colleges (like the ones Ms. Weiss applied to) have the luxury of a large pool of applicants coupled with a tiny acceptance rate. Whether you're a football player or high school valedictorian, you need to differentiate yourself amongst your competition. Mediocrity is a commodity.
I suppose one could argue that Ms. Weiss has indeed begun to craft her personal brand by thumbing her nose at the traditional college process. Her notoriety may be beneficial in the short term, but how will her personal brand evolve or hold up to years of Googling by future employers? She will always have to explain and defend the words she wrote in the Wall Street Journal. In fact, if she believes the current college admissions process is so flawed, perhaps she should bypass it completely and prove her value in the free market like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg did.
Whether you are a person or a business, remember that the Internet now serves as the unofficial historian of your brand. Build your brand wisely today so you won't have to defend it in the future.