How Debate Helped Me in College Admissions — Simone Silvan

For most people, the college process is daunting.

For debaters, the notion of sending in standardized test scores, the personal statement, and writing an abundance of supplements while transitioning back into the season may seem impossible. As per usual, however, skills gathered from debate can help on a variety of levels.

First and foremost, writing. Similar to writing constructives, college applications ask students to speak volumes with limited space. Unlike writing an essay, in which students often find themselves struggling to meet a specific word count, debaters are constantly working to fit their arguments in a four minute speech.

This helped me write better supplements in a few ways.

One, prioritization: limited time taught me how to prioritize which arguments to let go of and which to hold onto for the entire month. Specifically, debate regularly required me abandon contentions, even if I had toiled over them for hours on end. When it was time to write my personal statement, a 500 word limit essay required by most colleges, I felt more comfortable removing beautifully constructed sentences that were simply unnecessary to my central message.

Two, word efficiency. Similar to prioritization, word limits mean there is no room for double negatives, superfluous explanation, or poor syntax.

Three, a solid word economy. Judges and college admissions officers cannot ask you what you meant until after they have made their decision. That means every word must be used with intent. In my experience, debate created a solid foundation from which I knew how to choose my words wisely. Perhaps you might even want to discuss a specific moment from debate as the premise of a supplement. It goes without saying that debaters tend to have better public speaking skills than the average high schooler. Because of this, if a college I was applying to offered an interview, I signed up. Almost every time, I received compliments on my fluency as a student.

Interviews are short: debate taught me how to both answer questions efficiently and create a healthy flow of conversation between two people. Additionally, interviews provided a great opportunity for me to speak a bit more about my individual experience in debate. Remember that the vast majority college admissions officers do not share the vast understanding you have about all of the amazing aspects of debate– this is your chance to talk about it! For instance, I discussed what I learned from losing tight rounds. Before an interview, brainstorm a couple of key moments (good or bad) in your debate career that speak for your passion about debate.

Finally, the college process and debate are alike in that you will experience rejection. I was told early in the college process by my counselor that it would be unwise to apply to specific schools because my chance of admission was low. This feeling was similar to that of a judge’s RFD in a round I dropped; often difficult not to take it personally. I found myself asking, what does this adult not see in me that I do? Or, occasionally, what makes this adult qualified to pass such judgement onto my ability? Despite this, debaters are expected to move forward and plan for the next steps swiftly. Dropped ballots from debate, although not as great in magnitude as a letter of rejection from your dream school, can improve your ability to accept a let down and use it to fuel hard work.