Essential Strategies for Writing Great College Admission Essays :
It would be great if there were a formula for writing a successful college admission essay…20 percent startling personal realization, 30 percent introspection and 50 percent creativity. Unfortunately, there is no such formula. But there are qualities common to all winning essays. After writing our own essays and from speaking with hundreds of admission officers and successful applicants, here are the characteristics of a winning college admission essay. Be yourself.
It is important to show the admission officers the real you - not who you think they want to see. Explain why you think or act the way you do, what drives you or what has moved you. Speak in your own voice and use your own words. Don’t be afraid to write how you really feel. If you have always been jealous of your supermodel pretty sister, say so. It is your true and pure feelings that will make your admission essay stand out. Be original.
Remember that admission officers have a stack of applications and essays on their desk. How can you make your essay separate from the crowd? By taking a fresh approach to a topic. If you are writing about how your mother is your role model, you could write about how she shows that she loves you by taking care of you, but that would be the common, uninspired approach. Why not take a unique approach? Maybe the best conversations you have with her are while you watch the Tonight Show together. Or maybe you have learned patience from the way that she maneuvers through rush-hour traffic. Write in a way that no other student can by writing personally and going beyond surface observations. Reveal something about yourself.
The question may ask about your favorite book, music or class, but the real question is…What do these things mean to you? How have they affected the way that you think or act? Whatever you write about, it should always circle back to you. After reading your essay, the admission officers should have greater insight into who you are, what inspires you and what you aspire to be. Have a point.
Have you ever spoken on the telephone with a friend for an hour and at the end wondered what the conversation was about? That is not the way to impress admission officers. To test if your essay has a clear point, try to capsulize in one sentence what you are trying to convey. If after reading your essay you (or your editors) cannot summarize the central message of your essay in a single sentence, then you need to re-examine it. Spend as much time thinking as writing.
When you are writing - especially under a deadline - it is sometimes convenient to settle for the easiest answer. For example, let’s say that you are writing about your decision to become a doctor. You ask yourself, “Why do I want to become a doctor?” You think about it and realize that you always seemed to enjoy helping people. Is that enough? No…go further. Why do you enjoy helping people? Now the answers get harder. Is it because of some early experience when you were a child? Was it because of the influence of your father? Maybe after thinking about it you realize that this is not even the answer at all. The hardest part about writing your admission essay may not be the writing. To create a successful essay you need to think carefully about what you are going to write and be willing to spend time examining your answers. The best essays begin as simple answers to the colleges’ questions. As writers continually ask that nagging question BUT WHY until they can go no further, they transform their essay into a work that contains their best thoughts and ends in a place they hadn’t imagined when they started. As you write, don’t settle for easy answers. You may have to take long breaks to reflect. Answers may not come easily, but if you think as much as you write you will be rewarded with an essay that is extremely meaningful and powerful. Highlight growth.
One of the qualities admission officers look for in essays is maturity. They want to know that you are ready to make the transition from high school to college. Use your essay to demonstrate how you’ve grown or developed over the years. If you are describing a challenge, you might focus on how you overcame it or succeeded despite the obstacle. If you are writing about a failure, concentrate on what you have learned or how you have changed. Colleges want to see that you are introspective about your life, that you can view it with thoughtful perspective. It is very compelling to see in an essay how you have grown as the result of specific experiences. Keep your introductions brief.
You probably know from English class that having a strong introduction is important. However, unlike an essay that you write for class you have a very limited amount of space for the admission essay. Therefore, resist the temptation to overwrite the introduction. Ideally, your introduction should be no more than a short paragraph. Even for a narrative introduction that tells a story or is filled with detail, be careful not to spend too much space on it. Admission officers are primarily concerned with the main points of your essay, not that you have a lengthy, creative introduction. Good introductions are important, but a good introduction alone (without an even better body) has never gotten a student into college. Create mystery at the forefront.
Start the essay with a brief introduction that surprises the readers and makes them want to read past the first sentence. For example, you could start the essay with a description of your fear of the sounds of heavy artillery when you are talking not about your latest trek to the firing range but actually about a phobia of visiting the dentist. Keep in mind that you have limited space and therefore the introduction will have to be fairly brief. Get to the point quickly. And by all means do not get carried away with your own creativity. Demand 100% from every sentence.
Here is a simple test. As you read your work, ask yourself if each sentence makes you want to read the next one. You can take this even further by being as strict with every word. Is each word used purposefully and correctly? Do not just rely on your opinion. Seek the opinions of others. If your essay does not compel the reader to finish, it needs work. Raise intriguing questions or dilemmas.
Ponder questions to which you think the admission officers would be interested in finding the answers. If you raise a question or a dilemma you’ve faced, ask yourself if the reader would be interested in knowing the results of your decision. Force yourself to analyze your motivations.
When you are writing about your motivations, probe deep into yourself for the answer. For example, if you say that watching a specific concert as a child inspired you to become a musician, identify exactly what it was about the concert that motivated you. Was it the performer’s command of the audience? Was it the emotion that the music raised in you? If you are showing cause and effect, carefully and fully explain the cause. Use original language.
Try to describe people, places and events in a unique - but not awkward - style. Think of language as a toy and play with it. Experiment with dialogue. Vary the length of sentences and pose questions. If you use unfamiliar words, make sure you use them correctly. It is better to use ordinary language correctly than to use roller coaster-exciting language incorrectly. Be witty, but only if you can.
Showing your sense of humor will help make your admission essay memorable. If you can make the admission officers laugh or giggle, it will be a definite plus for your application. But do not go overboard with the humor and remember to have someone else check to make sure that what you think is funny really is funny. Your sense of humor may not be shared by your reader. Our advice is to never force trying to be funny. Often you will find that if your story is well told and interesting, inherent humor will show through on its own strength.
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