Think of the essay as the face of your application. An application without an essay is a statistic—just another faceless person in a crowd. An application with a poorly written essay does not give admissions officers the chance to care about you. Use simple psychology: make them feel that they know you, and it will be harder for them to reject you. Make them know you AND LIKE YOU, and they might accept you despite your weakness in other areas. Understanding the importance of the essay is a necessary first step toward perfecting your application. If you are normally a procrastinator, you should understand that your success depends entirely on the amount of time and effort you put into the essay writing process. If all of this has you sweating, you can relax now. Taking this process seriously is the first step. This course will help you get through the other steps.
Admissions essay questions tend to be very broad and difficult to tackle. Yet, it is imperative that you actually answer the question in your essay. It should go without saying, but if your essay does not address the question, then everything you learn in the rest of this course is for naught.
While looking at your application, you are probably asking yourself: “Why in the world are these admissions people asking me this question? What do they want me to write about?” While there is no one answer to either of these questions, there is some reason behind the most popular questions posed by applications.
EssayEdge Extra: Who’s Reading My Essay?
Contrary to popular belief, all admissions officers are not old men with bowties and English accents. In fact, the first people to read your application are often people not much older than yourself. At most colleges and universities, recent graduates of the college serve as assistants, conducting the first read on all of the essays. If they like your essay, they will pass it on to the associate directors or only read what the assistants pass along. Then, the associate directors choose which essays to pass along to the director, who makes the final decision. So essentially, the mysterious group that holds your future in its hands is composed of a few recent grads of the college, a couple of associate directors, and a director who must evaluate thousands of applications in a month or two. The moral of the story: Don’t write your essay for an old British guy. Be yourself. Write in a relaxed tone.
Choosing an essay topic can be one of the most difficult aspects of the entire admissions process. Questions often ask you to think about your entire life, pick just one thing, and talk about it in great depth. Even the most reflective writers are left wondering: “How am I supposed to know the ONE event that has changed my life or the one thing that represents my entire personality.” In all likelihood there isn’t just one. But there probably is one that you can write about most passionately and effectively. The most important part of your entire essay is finding this one subject. Without a topic you feel passionate about, without one that brings out the defining aspects of you personality, you risk falling into the trap of sounding like the 90 percent of applicants who will write boring admissions essays. Coming up with this idea is difficult and will require a great deal of time. But whatever you do, don't let this part stress you out. Have fun!
By now, you have figured out that you can save time by submitting the same or similar essays for the applications to various schools. If you are creative, you will be able to plug in many of your answers into some not so similar questions, too. It is fine to lift whole paragraphs or even entire essays and apply them to different questions-as long as you do so seamlessly. Be absolutely sure that you have answered the question asked. Pay special attention to the introductions and conclusions-this is where cutting and pasting is most evident. Thorough proofreading is imperative if you take shortcuts like these. If a school notices that you have obviously swapped essays without even bothering to tailor them to the questions at hand, it shows them that you are lazy and insincere. If the question requires an answer specific to the school, you should show that you have read the college’s web page, admissions catalog, and have an understanding of the institution's strengths.
Senior Writing Seminar
College Application Essays EXERCISE #1: BRAINSTORMING WORKSHEET One of the best methods of brainstorming is to begin with a grand list of potential topics and slowly let the best rise to the top. In order to generate a laundry list of important people, events, accomplishments and activities in your life, fill in the worksheet below. As you go through this lesson, you will begin to separate the good ideas from the bad.
1. If you were writing your autobiography right now, what would be ten events or things that would have to be included? It will be easiest to think over your life chronologically.
After Completing the Worksheet... You should now have between 25 and 75 potential essay topics. The next step is to narrow this list down to the topics that are most suited to an admissions essay. For each item listed above, answer the following questions. Some of your ideas may reveal themselves as dull, while you will find plenty to discuss for others.
Was the event a moment of epiphany, as if my eyes saw something to which they had previously been blind?
For each person you have listed, ask:
Why have I named this person?
Do I aspire to become like this person?
Which of this person’s traits do I admire?
Do I aspire to become like this person?
Which of this person’s traits do I admire?
Is there something that this person has said that I will always remember?
Did he or she challenge my views?
For each of your favorites and least favorites, ask:
Why is this a favorite or least favorite?
Has this thing influenced my life in a meaningful way?
For each failure, ask:
What if anything did I learn from this failure?
What if anything good came out of this failure?
In answering these questions, you will probably find that you have a great deal to talk about, at least for five to seven topics. You must now confront the underlying problem of the admissions essay: find the one topic that will allow you to synthesize your important personal characteristics and experiences into a coherent whole while simultaneously addressing your desire to attend a specific institution. While most admissions essays allow great latitude in topic selection, you must also be sure to answer the questions that were asked of you. Leaving a lasting impression on someone who reads 50 to 100 essays a day will not be easy, but the following guidelines should help you get started.
Look carefully at the additional reflection you have done based on the Brainstorming Worksheet. We will now narrow that reflection to the topics that offer the most fertile ground for growing an essay that allows these admissions officers to meet the real and unique you.
In the spaces below, identify five topics FROM THE REFLECTION YOU DID YESTERDAY. Don’t worry about narrowing those topics right now—or how you would write about those topics. Simply identify them as possible topics. You must have five.
College Entrance and Scholarship Application Essay Topic Selection
In this exercise, you will find a list of Do’s and Don’ts for selecting a topic, along with comments from long-time admissions officers. For each of your five potential topics, fill in this checklist. If you find yourself repeatedly answering “no” to these questions for any given topic, you should drop it and move on to another.
1. Have I selected a topic that describes something of personal importance to my life?
Admissions Officer Says: “Personalize your essays as much as possible. Generic essays are not only boring to read, they’re a waste of time because they don’t tell you anything to help you get to know the applicant any better.”
2. Am I avoiding a gimmicky topic? You should be very, very careful of trying to write your essay in iambic pentameter or with lots of jokes. Almost always, this is done poorly and is not appreciated by the admissions committee. Nothing is worse than not laughing at something that was written to be funny.
Admissions Officer Says: “Gimmicks are a big mistake, and a sarcastic or flippant tone will often offend.”
3. Does my topic stay away from information listed elsewhere on my application? Don’t mention GPAs or standardized test scores in your essay. That’s what the resume and other parts of the application are for.
Admissions Officer Says: “Listings of anything are dull, no matter how impressive.” “Essays should be about more than just a running tally of accomplishments.”
4. Will I be able to offer vivid supporting paragraphs to my essay topic? Do not choose a topic if you cannot provide concrete examples for the body of the essay.
Admissions Officer Says: “Details provide the color, the spice, and the life of the essays.” “As the saying goes, if you’re going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk.”
5. Can I fully answer the question asked of me? Can you address and elaborate on all points within the specified word limit, or will you end up writing a poor summary of something that might be interesting as a report or research paper? If you plan on writing something technical for an application, make sure you can back up your interest in a topic and not merely throw around big scientific words. Unless you convince the reader that you actually have the life experiences to back up your interest in neurobiology, the reader will assume that you are trying to impress him or her with shallow tactics. Also, be sure that you can write to admissions officers and that you are not writing over their heads.
Admissions Officer Says: “Actually answer the question they ask. Many people just list off their accomplishments and never relate it to the theme of the question.”
6. Will my topic keep the reader's interest from the first word? The entire essay must be interesting, considering admissions officers will probably spend only a few minutes reading each essay.
Admissions Officer Says: “If the first paragraph doesn’t fix my attention, like anyone I’m prone to skimming.”
7. Is my topic unique? Some students are so concerned about making the correct impression that they edit out anything that would help their essay stand out. They submit a “safe” essay that is, in reality, sterile, monotonous, and deadly boring. Most topics are in fact overdone, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, but a unique and convincing answer to a classic topic can pay off big. Furthermore, when applying to a competitive program that might be out of your reach, taking a risk in the essay may help your chances by standing out.
Admissions Officer Says: “Applicants should not be afraid to go out on a limb and be themselves-even when that means incorporating humor or being a little bit controversial.”
8. Am I being myself? Admissions officers want to learn about you and your writing ability. You must develop your own voice and tell YOUR story, not the story you think the reader wants to hear. Write about something meaningful and describe what you did and felt, and your essay will be unique. Many people travel to foreign countries or win competitions, but your feelings during these events are unique to you. Unless a philosophy or societal problem has interested you intensely for years, stay away from grand themes that you have little personal experience with.
Admissions Officer Says: “It is through the essay that the admissions officers reading the application will feel that they have truly gotten to know you.”
9. Does my topic avoid hot-button issues that may offend the reader? If you write on how everyone should worship your God, how wrong or right abortion is, or how you think the Republican Party is evil, you will not get into the college of your choice. The only thing worse than not writing a memorable essay is writing an essay that will be remembered negatively. Stay away from specific religions, political doctrines, or controversial opinions. You can still write an essay about Nietzsche's influence on your life, but express understanding that not all intelligent people will agree with Nietzsche's claims. Emphasize instead Nietzsche's influence on YOUR life, and not why you think he was wrong or right in his beliefs.
Admissions Officer Says: “It is dangerous for a non-professional (especially a high school student) to attempt writing as though the essay will be presented at a professional conference. You may be writing to someone who knows much more than you and will be irritated by your hackneyed proclamations.”
10. Is my essay honest? Unless you are a truly excellent writer, your best, most passionate writing will be about events that actually occurred. While you might be tempted to invent hardship, it is completely unnecessary. Write an essay about your life that demonstrates your personality.
Admissions Officer Says: “After 15 years of reading hundreds of essays a year, you develop an amazing ability to see straight through the bull.”