College Application Essay
Are you feeling anxious about crafting a compelling personal essay that will captivate the reader and stand out among the rest? Are you feeling unsure how to start the process and what to write about? The personal essay can be used as a tool to help you gain admission to the school of your dreams. An exceptional application essay can help a mediocre student gain acceptance to their top choice school. On the other hand, a poorly written essay can turn a likely acceptance into a rejection. The best way to think about the essay is as an interview in essay format. It should be about yourself and focus on a single meaningful experience in your life. It’s important to remember that your essay does not have to be about some monumental experience or tragic or triumphant event. The best essays can come from the most unlikely places. Your interpretation and presentation to the reader is essential. It should be written in an engaging conversational tone and read like a story. The personal essay can provide a window into your character and personality. In reflecting on the impact of a specific experience on your life, try to display your critical thinking skills and self reflection.
Here are some tips to keep in mind while writing an essay that is sure to grab the reader’s attention:
- Your essay can be used to display your humbleness and generosity to others. These character traits can appeal to the reader.
- Your essay should make a point, although it does not need to be obvious.
- Be specific and avoid using clichés, controversial topics, and jargon.
- Everyone has a story to tell and one of the best ways to find one is to keep a personal journal.
- Try to stay away from a story that is too predictable. A surprising twist in the story is more likely to grab the reader’s attention.
- The essay should focus on a tension or conflict in your life and how you resolved it.
- Try to allow enough time to write the essay so that you are not rushed.
- Remember that appearances count. Spelling and grammatical errors show a lack of diligence. Try to have multiple people proofread for errors. The computer will not catch all spelling and grammatical errors (such as their and there). Proofread at least three times. Edit also for layout, content, style, flow and meaning.
- Be sincere and write in a clear, concise and coherent way.
- The essay can be used as a tool to focus on your strengths or address your weaknesses.Be careful not to overuse “I”.
- Stay within the word limit.
- Never plagiarize.
- Answer the prompt.
- Read your essay aloud to see how it flows.
- A good essay always shows, a weak essay tells.
- If you are writing about a sad or tragic experience, always focus on the positive outcome.
- Your essay should say, “I am a good fit for this college.”
- The essay should contain information that is not in the application.
- The essay is the student’s voice of who they are.
- Consider using a metaphor or simile that applies to your life to make your essay more interesting.
Two books that can offer additional information on essay writing are:
- 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays
With Analysis by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson
- Fiske Real College Essays that Work
By Edward B. Fiske and Bruce G. Hammond
SAT Subject Tests
You’ve taken the tests, requested the recommendations, completed the common app, and now it’s finally time to refocus on what you’ve been putting off: the essay.
While most students spend days, sometimes weeks, perfecting their personal statements, admissions officers only spend about three to five minutes actually reading them, according to Jim Rawlins, director of admissions at the University of Oregon.
High school seniors are faced with the challenge of summarizing the last 17 years into 600 words, all while showcasing their “unique” personality against thousands of other candidates.
“It’s hard to find a balance between sounding professional and smart without using all of those long words,” says Lily Klass, a senior at Milford High School in Milford, Mass. “I’m having trouble reflect myself without sounding arrogant or rude or anything like that.”
The following tips will help applicants make the leap from ‘average’ to ‘accepted’:
1. Open with an anecdote.
Since the admissions officers only spend a brief amount of time reviewing stories, it’s pivotal that you engage them from the very beginning.
“Instead of trying to come up with gimmicky, catchy first lines, start by sharing a moment,” says Janine Robinson, writing coach and founder of Essay Hell. “These mini stories naturally grab the reader … it’s the best way to really involve them in the story.”
Let the moment you choose be revealing of your personality and character. Describe how it shaped who you are today and who you will be tomorrow.
2. Put yourself in the school’s position.
At the end of the day, colleges want to accept someone who is going to graduate, be successful in the world and have the university associated with that success. In your essay, it is vital that you present yourself as someone who loves to learn, can think critically and has a passion for things—anything.
“Colleges always say to show your intellectual vitality and curiosity,” Robinson says. “They want kids who are going to hit the ground running—zoom to class and straight out into the world. They want them hungry and self-aware.
RELATED: Goucher College aims to level playing field with video application option
3. Stop trying so hard.
“One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying too hard to impress,” Robinson says. “Trust that it is those every day, specific subjects that are much more interesting to read about.”
Colleges are tired of reading about that time you had a come-from-behind- win in the state championship game or the time you built houses in Ecuador, according to Robinson. Get creative!
Furthermore, you’re writing doesn’t have to sound like Shakespeare. “These essays should read like smart, interesting 17-year-olds wrote them,” says Lacy Crawford, former independent college application counselor and author of Early Decision. “A sense of perspective and self-awareness is what’s interesting.
4. Ditch the thesaurus. Swap sophistication for self-awareness
There is a designated portion of the application section designated to show off your repertoire of words. Leave it there.
On the personal essay, write how you would speak. Using “SAT words” in your personal statement sounds unnatural and distances the reader from you.
“I think most students are torn between a pathway dividing a diary entry and a press release. It’s supposed to be marketing document of the self,” Crawford says.
RELATED: 3 tips for getting your college application materials in on time
5. Write about what matters to you, not what matters to them
Crawford recommends students begin by answering the question, “if you had 10 minutes to talk to them in person, what would you say?” The admissions teams are looking for authenticity and quality of thinking.
“Theoretically, I think anything could be ‘the perfect topic, as long as you demonstrate how well you think, your logic and ability to hold readers’ attention,” Crawford says.
6. Read the success stories.
“The best advice is to read essays that have worked,” Robinson says. “You’ll be surprised to see that they’re not winning Pulitzers; they are pieces of someone. You want your story to be the one she doesn’t put down.”
Once you find a topic you like, sit down and write for an hour or so. It shouldn’t take longer than that. When you write from your heart, words should come easily.
Rawlins recommends showing the essay to a family member or friend and ask if it sounds like the student. “Take a few days and come back to it. But only do that once,” Rawlins says. “Reading it over and over again will only drive you nuts.”
7. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.
While colleges tend to nod to disadvantaged students, roughing up your background won’t help your cause.
“It’s less about the topic and more about how you frame it and what you have to say about it, Robinson says. “The better essay is has the most interesting thing to say, regardless of a topic that involves a crisis or the mundane.”
The essays serve as a glimpse into how your mind works, how you view the world and provides perspective. If you have never had some earth shattering experience that rocked your world, don’t pretend you did. Your insights will be forced and disingenuous.
RELATED: Who reads your college applications anyway?
8. Follow the instructions.
While the directions on the applications may sound generic, and even repetitive after applying to a variety of schools, Rawlins points out that every rhyme has a reason.
“They have to know that college put a lot of thought into the instructions we give them—so please follow them!” he says. “We’ve given a lot of thought to the words we use. We want what we ask for.”
9. Use this space to tell them what your application can’t.
Most colleges don’t have the time or bandwidth to research each individual applicant. They only know what you put in front of them. “If they don’t tell us something, we can’t connect the dots,” Rawlins says. “We’re just another person reading their material.”
Like Crawford, he recommends students imagining they are sitting next to him in his office and responding to the question, “What else do I need to know?” And their essays should reflect how they would respond.
At the end of the day, however, Rawlins wants students to know that the personal essay is just another piece of the larger puzzle. “They prescribe way too much importance to the essay,” Rawlins says. “It makes a massive difference—good or bad—to very few out there, so keep it in context.”
Paige Carlotti is a senior at Syracuse University.
admissions essay, college applications, Paige Carlotti, writing, VOICES FROM CAMPUS