I started reading applications today. I will read the first of many letters of recommendations, resumes, transcripts and test scores to come my way this year. My favorite part, however, (or my least favorite… it depends on the student) is the essay. I wouldn’t say it makes or breaks many decisions, but it helps me remember Little Johnny compared to the other students who also have the 3.7 GPA and 27 ACT, who are involved in sports and community service. There are not many other places in the application I learn about a student’s humor, character and values. To help you (and selfishly, me) here are my recommendations on how to write an essay that will help round out your application.
The essay presents the person behind the paper. Some popular topics discuss motivations, goals, dreams, successes and failures, but regardless of the topic, it should demonstrate reflection, self awareness and originality while giving insight to the admission committee. You can create a picture by telling a specific story only you can tell and shade it by including personal reflection, context, meaning and detail. An exercise I recommend is to come up with fifty (yes, 50!) topics. Your last ten will be your most creative; most likely an original I have not read about and unique to you.
Writing the essay is often the most difficult part of the application for many students. To help with the process, I recommend just get started! Accept the “roughness” of your first draft. Write continuously (but don’t forget to delete later what you don’t want in the final draft). I want you to put me right into the action…cut out the thought process. Think about your ending and discuss what you have learned and remember to provide insight. Come back to a rough draft after a few days and ask yourself if you have told a story in your own voice. Read it aloud for tone, fluency and message. Re-read your essay line by line, looking for sound construction, grammar, punctuation and mechanics. You don’t want to be the student who writes, “I have always loved mucis.”
The three most common mistakes students make are they 1) write about what they think the committee wants to hear, 2)wait to the last minute, or 3) repeat their resume. Count your adverbs and times you’ve used “I” (I did this, I did that), explanation marks (!) and CAPS. You don’t want to overuse them. You should also avoid nondescript words and phrases such as, “It was something I’ll remember for a long time” and “It was very important to me.” Finally, have other people read your essay. Ask them if it sounds like you and have them make sure there are no errors. Even professional writers have editors.
I thought this article on CNN was timely, and it reminded me that I wrote my essay on aliens, and they still let me in…
Shanna Pomager, Associate Director of Admission