Typically, the admissions officer assigned to your application has about two minutes to convey you and their recommendation to a committee of admissions officers. Using their 2-page application summary sheet as a guide, they might say something like this…
Mary is a lover of ideas, particularly science and engineering ideas – you can see this by her academic seriousness, (GPA, classes, test scores all strong) and the way she approached the essays – definitely an independent thinker. Plus, she had real responsibility in her summer internships – the 3D printer manufacturer put her in charge of a printer demonstration. As a lover of ideas, artistic expression seems to come naturally, especially in dance where she’s quite accomplished. It is not surprising that Mary touches other people’s lives. She’s the real deal when it comes to community and church service, which she has done with increasing initiative all four years of high school. Smart, curious, in touch with herself, and touches others. Mary would make an outstanding member of our community.
The admissions officer’s description of Mary reads more like a story than a list of facts. It makes Mary come alive and feel familiar. Think about it, when you describe a good friend do you describe him as "6’1” with brown hair" or do you describe his qualities – “John’s awesome. He’s got a great sense of humor.”? I’d guess the second, because it’s the qualities that count.
I ran across a blog on LinkedIn from a Cornell University ex-admissions officer. He was rebutting the claim of another blog that “You Are Little More Than A Screen Shot On An Admissions Officer’s Monitor” by clarifying that [emphasis by the author] “YOU ARE THE STORY that your application tells!” and goes on to say that “All schools who practice HOLISTIC ADMISSIONS versus ADMISSIONS BY THE NUMBERS, view every single applicant as a story.”
I’d suggest weaving the thread of your own storyline throughout your application. Does the activity list and honors list support the story? Do the letters of recommendation express qualities similar to those in your essays? Do your class choices support your stated academic interests? Are there holes in the story or is it cohesive and supported by the facts of your application? The bottom line is that a story is going to be told about you. You can either tell it yourself or the admissions officer will have to make it up.