Like just about anything, there are several ways of being really bright, and the challenge for you (and for people in college admissions) is to identify who you are as a learner and also as an academic performer. I can't emphasize this enough:* your best shot at convincing admissions officers that their institution will benefit from your contributions is to let them see how you think and act in an academically challenging environment.* So, our first steps have to be for you to understand exactly the kind of learner you have been up to now.
The important thing is to be able to describe yourself honestly. Knowing who you are is the best place to begin. Being able to articulate how you learn, how you process what you learn, and how you use what you learn will increase your chances of being admitted to any college. Your goal is be able to present a very clear picture of who you are as someone who gets excited by academic ideas. That all starts by understanding the kind of geek you really are.
Admissions officers are the good guys here, but they have an impossible job--especially at highly selective institutions where the ratio of admitted students is somewhere around one out of five to ten. Our goal is to make it easier for them to see your strengths.
So, let's begin with an assessment of YOU.
If you were to write a short description of yourself what would it include? Try that now. And then ask a close friend to write a short description of you as well. And finally, ask your parents to do the same thing. Once you have all three, compare them, and see what common threads exist.
What we are beginning to build here is the fundamental concept of the kind of learner you have been. Eventually, we will add to it, modify it, and shape it into a description that shows off your wonderful geekiness. But for now, don't think so much about how it might look at the end; just write.
What did you discover? What were some words or phrases that came up again and again about the things you like? What were the ideas that you, your friends, and your parents all recognized? What did they see that you hadn't?
Using the observations of people around you is important in self-examination. It's like using a mirror to see what you look like from a different point of view--or two mirrors even. Of course, the philosopher inside us will remind us that reflections are never true images but rather approximations of who we are, and that perception is always skewed and never perfect; however, this combined point of view is much more complete that none at all, so let's go with that as we work to understand ourselves better.