WRITING THE COLLEGE ESSAY WRITING THE COLLEGE ESSAY:
WRITING THE COLLEGE ESSAY WRITING THE COLLEGE ESSAY: DOs & DONTs SOMETIMES WE LET STUDENTS WRITE THEMSELVES IN. - DEAN OF ADMISSION, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE THE ESSAY GIVES US
SOMETHING THE NUMBERS DONT REVEAL. - DIRECTOR OF ADMISSION, GORDON COLLEGE THE ESSAY CAN BE A POWERFUL TIPPER IN
CLOSE CASES. - DIRECTOR OF ADMISSION, BATES COLLEGE Great 1st lines! (Whats your hook?) I have old hands. I have never seen anyone get so excited about mitochondria. I change my name each time I order at Starbucks. I was seven years old when I saw the ocean for the first time.
I sat nervously in the plastic chair, my cotton chupa tied a bit too tightly. Goggles? Check. Lab coat? Yep. Common sense? Maybe not? I wish the Boy Scouts made computers an Eagle Scout required badge. Essay Dos:
Personal Focused Specific Positive Smart Concise Active Verbs Your Voice DO be Personal The college wants to learn more about
you, not one of your friends or one of your relatives It should be your story that can come from only you It should not be a story the student sitting next to you can tell, and the person next to them, and the person in the high school in the next town, or the next state DO be Focused The essay should prove a single point The reader must be able to find your main idea and follow it from the
beginning to end Essays that try to be too comprehensive end up sounding watered-down DO be specific Develop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, and examples There's a big difference between simply stating a point of view and letting an idea unfold in the details: Boring and Generic: "I like to be surrounded by people with a variety of backgrounds and interests." Much Better: "During that night, I sang the theme
song from Casablanca with a baseball coach who thinks he's Bogie, discussed Marxism with a little old lady, and heard more than I ever wanted to know about some woman's gall bladder operation." DO be positive Have an optimistic viewpoint Accentuate the positive too
Few students have the perfect resume, so focus on the things you do well Check your ego at the door Use positive words DO be smart Any factual errors in the essay will reveal that you really haven't thought deeply about your choice For example, writing that you want to attend Syracuse University to major in international business would be a blunder (NOTE: Syracuse doesn't have an international business major)
Get your facts straight. My favorite book is The Great Gatsby by Charles Dickens. (Uh Oh!!) DO be concise Many students try to turn a 500-word essay into a complete autobiography; not surprisingly, they fail to answer the question Make sure that every sentence in your essay exists solely to answer the question After you are done writing, ask yourself:
Is every single sentence crucial to the essay? DO use active verbs Overuse of the passive voice makes prose seem flat and uninteresting The active voice is shorter and more direct Passive: The tray of food was dropped by the waiter. Active: The waiter dropped the tray of food. DO write in your voice
A lot of people think they can make their essays weightier by sticking a high-minded quote at the beginning The admissions committee doesnt care what Benjamin Franklin said or what John Lennon sang Unless you are going to use a quotation as the basis for your essay overall, its best to stick with your own words You have a limited number of words: Make them your own! Essay Donts:
Thesaurus Heavy Clichs DONT be negative Admissions officers dont need to hear you rail about everything that is wrong in the world. Too much negativity without a glimpse of hope makes colleges wonder if you will be able to contribute something positive Anger and pessimism are unattractive qualities, especially in a scenario where there are many similar choices. DONT be condescending
Dont use sweeping generalizations, such as all Americans are conforming cowards Dont be offensive If you think its offensive, it probably is DONT be cynical cynical [ snnik'l ] distrustful of human nature: doubting or contemptuous of human nature or the motives, goodness, or
sincerity of others sarcastic: mocking, scornful, or sneering Does this sound like someone a college would like to have on campus? DONT be boring The last thing you want is a drowsy admissions officer! Admission officers have to read hundreds of essays, and they often skim If you sound like everyone else, they will put
you in a pile with everyone else. However, dont try to be so memorable that you come off as too eccentric DONT rehash your resume Don't repeat information that is found elsewhere in the application Your essay will end up sounding like an autobiography, resume, travelogue, or laundry list. Yawn. Dont mention your GPA or SAT / ACT scores in your essay
For example, DONT say this: "During my junior year, I played first singles on the tennis team, served on the student council, maintained a B+ average, traveled to France, and worked at a cheese factory." DONT plagiarize Admissions people CAN tell when you buy it or recycle it or let someone else do it. And they mark the essay DDI when theyve concluded that Daddy did it.
DONT overuse the thesaurus Do use your own voice Admission officers can tell Roget from a high school student Big words, especially when misused, detract from the essay and makes the essay sound contrived Powerful ideas are often best expressed in simple and elegant prose Remember: Good writers use the best words, not the biggest words. DONT use clichs
If your essay says any (or all!!) of the below, TAKE THEM OUT:
cutting edge I learned my lesson I always learn from my mistakes I know my dreams will come true I can make a difference _________ is my passion I no longer take my loved ones for granted These lessons are useful both on and off the field (or other sporting arena) I realize the value of hard work and perseverance _________ was the greatest lesson of all I know what it is to triumph over adversity _________ opened my eyes to a whole new world
Additional Resources College Board gives great tips about writing a college essay. It also offers critiques of sample essays. www.collegeboard.com/student/apply/essay-skills/index.htm l
Sometimes, the best tips are given directly from the colleges themselves. For example, check out: http://www.admissions.umich.edu/essay/tips/ http://www.virginia.edu/undergradadmission/writingtheessay .html Connecticut College compiled a number of essays they believe worked: http://www.conncoll.edu/admission/essays.htm The University of Chicago is known for its provocative essay questions take a look, it could get your creative juices flowing: https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/apply/essays/
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