The college essay, for undergrad or graduate school, is the most dreaded, and most important, writing you will do senior year. The dread is in direct proportion to the importance: if it was just any old essay, who cares? But no, this essay, this one or two page piece of writing, determines your. entire. future.
The admissions essay is how you distinguish yourself from the crowd of other students the Admissions Office has never met, and whose numbers all look the same. The Committee wants to know: what makes you special? Will you be a good roommate? Will you contribute in the classroom? On campus? Who are you and why do you want to go to our school?
Your college essay doesn't have to be monumental, it just has to be true to you. Just like your Facebook page and your Twitter account (which you have cleaned up, right?), the essay is your chance to put your best foot forward and show what is unique about you. Since college is the place to re-invent yourself, consider this your first opportunity. Who do you want to be when you get to college? Write that person's essay!
Rules for making your essay the best it can be:
1) Don't be afraid to show your personality. If you dropped a draft of the essay in the hallway between classes, would your best friend know you wrote it? You can (and should) ask for proofreading help and reactions from your friends, your parents, your admissions consultant and/or your teachers, but the final editing decisions must be yours, in your authentic voice. The Admissions Committee can spot a parent-written essay a mile away. (HINT: They usually sound like "Jeremy has been a model student with a 3.8 GPA...")
2) Pick a topic you feel passionate about. Was your bar mitvah or quinceanera super important to you or was it just an excuse to have a party? (One of the new Common Application essay topics is on a "coming of age" ceremony in your ethnic background.) Was working at the soup kitchen that one Thanksgiving really the turning point in your life?
If these really were transformative experiences, then write about them. But if you're writing about something because someone told you that's what Admissions Committees want to hear, forget it. There will be thousands of warmed-over soup kitchen essays, and writing the same essay as everyone else is not the way to distinguish yourself.
3. Don't wait until the last minute.
Seriously, don't wait until the day before your application is due. Not only will it cause considerable stress and probably ruin your winter break, but you'll lose the opportunity to get feedback from others. I know what I'm talking about, my mother had to lock me in my room to get me to write my essay. #real talk
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