Developing an Application Theme and Narrative

Creating an outstanding application profile relies on the two key elements of an exceptional college application: theme and narrative. The theme is the recurring topic that unites the various components of your child’s application, and the narrative is the story that shows who your child is, what they are capable of, and what they have already accomplished.

Every element of your child’s application should be related to the theme and presented in a way that furthers the narrative. A clear theme and a compelling narrative will make the application readable and memorable, thus increasing your child’s chances of being admitted into a top college.

However, not just any theme or narrative will be effective—these are the vehicles through which your child must communicate how they will add value to the school.


Developing a theme that clearly shows how your child will be an asset to the college is an effective way to help them stand out among the thousands of other applicants.

Admissions officers are looking for applicants who will contribute to the college’s various programs, add to its diversity, inspire other students to learn and innovate, and enrich campus life. Crafting your child’s admissions theme is the first step in effectively communicating this value to the admissions officer.

Connect the dots between the classes your child took, the activities they participated in, and the college major they plan to pursue. If your child intends to pursue a business major, for instance, the other elements in their profile should support that choice. What business-related classes did your child take? Which activities demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit? Which accomplishments indicate early business success? Linking these elements is vital in creating a compelling and logical theme.

Basically, your child’s theme brings everything into focus and should allow their profile to be summarized in one or two words. Your child’s theme might be their academic or extracurricular focus (e.g., tech entrepreneur, programmer/engineer, blog writer, microbiologist, etc.) or a specific project, as it was in my case. If the admissions officer can’t figure out exactly what your child is interested in, the theme is unclear.


While the theme is the central idea that every element of your child’s profile ties into, the narrative is how your child takes this theme and tells their unique story.

The theme is about the what and the how. The narrative is about the why.

Your child’s profile should present admissions officers with a sincere and interesting narrative that focuses more on who your child is rather than what they have done. The narrative should showcase your child’s creativity and leadership, the motivation behind the what of their theme.

For instance, my application theme was my literacy project, Children’s Books on Tape. Therefore, the what was creating listening libraries with recorded books on tape for children from underprivileged backgrounds. The why was my underlying reason for starting the nonprofit—an early experience with elementary school children who were struggling to read English. But if I hadn’t told my story, the admissions officers would have had no context for my accomplishments, and the what of my profile would have been far less impactful.

Your child’s admissions profile should tell their story. It should present admissions officers with the why behind the what. The activities your child participates in and all of their honors and accomplishments are the what elements. In many ways, these elements will look like the what of every other application. As much as your child should work to develop a unique what, their why will make them stand out the most.

The why is what differentiates your child from other applicants. Your child’s narrative will provide the necessary context for your child’s theme, and everything will logically fit together. The admissions officer will have a much clearer idea of who your child is, what makes them unique, and why they belong at the college.

Of course, a successful college application needs more than a solid theme and narrative. Ivy League Prep would be delighted to guide you and your child throughout the entire admissions process.