Many students trip over common obstacles in their college application essays. For example, many students can’t see beyond the superficial prompt to construct an essay that positively communicates their personality and passion. Some students rehash their activities and achievements without adding the personal flavor, perspective and substance that admissions officers look for. As an independent college admissions consultant, I read many application essays and see many common application essay mistakes.
Prospies, I’m going to let you in on a little admissions secret: Too many of you write about the same essay topics. “But Lily,” you say to me frantically, “I’m different and more interesting than all the other people writing about the same topic! ” And now prospies, I will let you in on a second admissions secret: Just as Ginnifer Goodwin’s character Gigi learned in , you are the rule and not the exception. Since starting TP almost a year and a half ago, I’ve gotten into many arguments with high school students about this fact. But no one ever said that the admissions world was fair. The point is, no matter how special and awesome you are at home, at the end of the day, you are still one application out of thousands sitting on someone’s desk, and the things that make you unique in your hometown usually won’t mean jack to an admissions officer. So, now that you are slowly coming to terms with the “rule not the exception” principle, let’s turn to essay topics.
You sit on your bed, at your desk and in the library wondering where to begin your college admissions essay. Again, you connect with your reader when you are able to convey the wonderful details of your story. It’s not like there’s a Google map showing you how to go from here to there. Think about the panic that rolled down your back and up your spine when you realized that you had buried your little brother’s favorite toy trucks somewhere on Mayflower Beach, but had no idea where. Share your story in a thoughtful, honest and meaningful way. How do you dig through seventeen years of experiences and select the one that shares your voice, your vision, your passion? Any time you speak authentically from your heart, readers engage. Before you write, really think about the sentiment of the moment. Did standing at the podium feel like an itchy sweater on a hot afternoon in Boston? Was it when you sat behind Grandpa’s dented old Buick the day you got your license, or the time you figured out how to rig your book to the shower door without getting it soggy so you could finish the last chapter of , or won a championship in anything. So, what are you going to write that an admissions officer wants to read? Allow yourself to convey the sentiments that will let the reader understand something about you that is not evident from your transcript or your activities resume. Unstick from that blank screen, sit back and read these tips. Think of your essay as the heart of your application.
It is natural to feel stressed about submitting college applications. The information included in the application will play a major role in deciding the future path of your life. However, unlike most other components of the application that offer numbers and statistics, the essay is your chance to show a different side of you as a person. The college application essay is where you can bring your personality to life for college admissions officers. Here are some important tips to help you get started: Use Your Voice and Natural Language Using a thesaurus to throw in unnecessarily large works often ends up looking rather clunky and awkward.
College Essays Can Give a Glimpse into Your Soul While student grades and test scores are clearly top factors in admissions office decisions, application essays often play a pivotal role. Like nothing else, essays give admissions readers a real sense for who you are as a person and student. Some say they are a "glimpse into your soul." Most colleges require at least one essay as a part of their applications; some require two, three or even more. Ranging in length from just a few words to one, two, or three pages of content, essay questions in any free-response section of the college application should be considered an opportunity to make a good impression. Brag, boast, toot your own horn, or come across as arrogant. Write what you think college admissions people want instead of what you really think. Go off writing about what you want to say rather than what the question asks AND ignore the specified character/word counts. Come across as immature, negative, superficial, shallow, a phony, glib, a slacker, insecure, whiney, judgmental or disrespectful. Give the impression that you know little about a college by writing trite, inaccurate or inconsequential things about it. Make something up about yourself just to impress the admissions readers. Write an essay and consider it done without looking for punctuation or grammatical errors and having it edited by at least one person. Use the same words over and over, e.g., my friend, my friend, my friend, my friend, my friend. Make excuses for anything, including a bad grade, an infringement of rules, a suspension, whatever. At the National Association for College Admission Counseling's (NACAC) yearly conference, college admissions deans have admitted repeatedly that poorly written essays can "do in" a student with top grades and test scores... Answer each and every aspect of the essay question as best you can AND within the character/word limit provided. Come across as mature, positive, reflective, intelligent, down-to-earth, curious, persistent, confident, original, creative, hard-working and thoughtful. Demonstrate evidence of your having real knowledge about a college and its many resources, including courses, programs, activities and students. Write about anything that is counterintuitive about yourself, e.g., you are a football player who is totally into poetry, a young woman who is a computer or physics geek, a macho guy who wants to be an elementary school teacher. Compose an essay, give it to others to read and edit, and then do a final edit before you declare that it is done. Use a variety of words to describe something or someone, e.g., Charley, my friend, my buddy, my schoolmate, he, him. Explain what needs to be explained, as in an illness, a learning disability, a suspension, a one-time bad grade, a family tragedy, a major challenge you have had. Write too much, ramble on, thinking that more (words) is better. Application essays are a wonderful opportunity for you to show admissions offices who you really are, in what ways you think, how well you perform, and even your sense of humor.
These are essays that I would go back and read today. What was it about these essays that made them so entertaining and engaging? In 20 years of reading college essays and giving students advice on this monumental teenage rite of passage, I do have some standout favorite essays of all time. As we move into college essay season, I’ll take a moment to reflect on these top picks from my twenty years in the trenches and give you some insights into what these teenage writers did right. Walking in Tokyo The writer of this essay just graduated from Seattle University. She writes about growing up as a white American in Tokyo, and this essay is in every sense a love story about the city.
Now that you're thoroughly intimidated (or maybe totally pumped about the chance to really show your stuff—it's cool, let the fist pumps roll), let's talk about your audience further. She wrote from the heart and conveyed a sense of personality. Have you ever wondered who actually reads your application essay? They drink sherry, read Derrida on their lunch breaks, and gleefully thrown your essay out the window if you use "who" instead of "whom," right? They come dressed to universities wearing ties and dresses and appear in human form. They did something very bad in a former life and karma is punishing them by having to read 9,500 bad essays to find the 500 decent ones and the 3 dozen awesome ones that then become part of their Pantheon? The key fact to know about your audience (and yes, you are writing for a specific audience and it doesn’t include Grandma) is that they are bored. The applicant really thought about what she wanted to say. You'd want to put this application in your "favorites" pile. Think of all your friends applying to the same school who will spend an hour on their essay with trite blurbs about how good it felt to help the needy. The applicant took the time to make sure there were no spelling mistakes.
Let’s say you are at the top of your class and applying to an Ivy League school. You feel confident because you got 2200 on your SATs, are class president, run cross-country, and are in five clubs. Of the 30,000 applicants to that dream school, most have the same qualifications. One may be a stellar quarterback, another has wealthy forebears whose names are on campus buildings, some are geniuses from the swamps of Mississippi, and others have already performed with the New York Philharmonic. All your life, “failure has never been in your vocabulary because you have succeeded at everything. You can rise above the other applicants, be an individual that the admissions folks actually like. Most of them are so boring, you would need to sew your eyelids open. These essays reflect all that success: When I became a leader through my role in the Spanish club.