College Admissions Assistance
For some students, the prospect of writing the college admission essay is so frightening that they wait until the night before deadline. Others are so confident in their application that they consider the college admission essay extra credit. The admissions process reveals that both sides are missing the point. Let us offer some constructive college admissions assistance.
Without the essay, a selection committee would have to arbitrarily choose between two (or 200) nearly identical candidates. Unlike every other means of evaluation, the college admission essay is not multiple-choice, it is not timed, and it does not require auditions or tryouts. You can re-write it hundreds of times and ask everyone you know to read it. Therefore, there is no excuse for submitting a college admission essay that is not your best possible effort.
Many students put off writing this all-important statement of self. They worry about bragging, or they try extra hard to sound intelligent. Consequently, they fill their essay with statements of their achievements, wisdom and the profound lessons they have learned. In trying to create this exaggerated image, many students do not realize that every other applicant is attempting the same thing. Instead of playing along with the crowd, a successful essay stands apart. It tells a unique story true to the writer; one that makes the admissions officer like and remember the applicant. If you make yourself truly likeable, the admissions officer will find it difficult to reject you.
College Admission Essay Tips:
Many students unnecessarily obsess over their choice of topic. “Should I write about the basketball team,” they ask, “or my love of piano?” Your choice of topic does not matter as much as your approach. Almost any topic can work if it’s tackled in the right way. In most cases, an admissions officer is especially curious about how you think and feel about a topic and what this says about your creativity, sophistication, and personality. However, some essay topics never work. Hopeless essays are ones that betray a student’s lack of perspective. Nobody likes a 17-year-old who cannot imagine the world beyond high school.
A college admission essay about dating or arguing with a classmate over boys is not recommended. On the flip side, nobody appreciates 17-year-olds who think they know everything. A 700-word essay was not meant to solve urban poverty or discuss the great themes of life and love. Likewise, you should steer clear of sounding preachy, for instance when condemning the evils of alcohol, eating meat, or regulating the sale of firearms. An essay should never risk offending the reader’s sensibilities or beliefs. That said, many possible topics remain, although some are used more often than others. It is common to read of a student’s immigration to America, big loss in the soccer playoffs or admiration of her father. Choosing one of these essay mainstays means working extra hard to make it special. It means concentrating on the details of a story, the facts that pertain only to you, to make the story unique and revealing. This goes for even the most unusual subjects. Regardless of how original the topic, the essay needs to present authentic, vivid details of your life in order to implant itself in the reader’s mind and convey something memorable about yourself.
Tell a Story
Your essay will succeed if it tells a good story. Too often, an essay will fizzle into a series of statements that “tell” rather than “show” the likeable traits of the writer. Some students wrongfully assume that the reader will not “get it” if they do not spell out their main arguments. As a result, the essay succumbs to the usual clichés: the value of hard work and perseverance, learning to make a difference, not taking loved ones for granted, dreams coming true or learning from mistakes. These statements are fine if used minimally, but the best essays do not use them at all. The worst essays are composed entirely of such statements.
You should allow the details of the story to make the statement for you. An example helps elucidate the difference. A mediocre essay might say: “I developed a new compassion for those with disabilities.” A better essay says: “Whenever I had the chance to help a disabled person, I did so happily.” However, an excellent essay says: “The next time Mrs. Cooper asked me to help her across the street, I smiled and immediately took her arm.” The first example provides no detail, the second example is still only hypothetical, but the final example evokes a vivid image of something that actually happened, thus placing the reader in the experience of the applicant. Of course, this technique works only insofar as it highlights the qualities of the writer. These larger points should always lurk in the back of your mind. Once a good story is written, any details that distract your overarching qualities should be removed.
Revise, Revise, Revise
In order to bring these points to the surface, feedback plays a crucial role. You should give drafts to a variety of readers: relatives, friends, teachers, and if possible, to an experienced editor. Test readers should give their first, unadulterated opinion of the piece, answering questions such as: What is this essay about? Does it answer the question? What does it say about the applicant? And perhaps most importantly, is the essay memorable? Since there is no predicting who among the admissions staff will read the essay, any early feedback helps. The great value of a second opinion—or twelfth, as the case may be—means the essay has many chances at improvement. Make your essay reflect your personality and circumstances in as flattering and detailed a way as possible. Depending on the rest of the application, the essay can be icing on the cake—or your last desperate plea.
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