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
TALK BACK! How's your essay coming?
Perfect standardized test scores and grades are not enough to gain entrance to the most selective colleges. Due to grade inflation and test prepping, quantitative perfection is becoming commonplace. To be successful, you must also show the school what kind of person you are. This is why getting the admissions essay right is so important.
While the undergraduate essay is the focus of many books, the graduate school essay is equally, if not more, important to your acceptance into graduate level programs. Colleen Reding has helped to fill that gap with her new book Grad’s Guide to Graduate Admissions Essays, published by Prufrock Press. This collection of essays provides grad school applicants with models of successful medical school personal statements as well as successful essays from law school, business school and general graduate school students, all of whom attended Georgetown with Ms. Reding for their undergraduate degrees.
Why do higher education programs even ask for essays? A good essay will give a sense of who you are as a person, and what you may contribute to the school’s student body. Are you a leader? Do you have an interesting background? Are you able, and willing, to make a contribution to the intellectual and social life of the college and the particular program to which you are applying?
The examples in the book go beyond the standard “I have always wanted to be a lawyer” and “I really just want to help people” essays, instead weaving personal experiences into the story of why the applicant is the ideal candidate for admission. Readers will get a good sense of what competitive graduate programs are looking for in applicant essays, and models they can use when drafting their own. Equally helpful are the writing tips provided throughout explaining why the essay was particularly effective—writing style, use of theme, choice of examples, approach to the prompt, etc. I especially like the notes about using a unifying theme for your essay. Don't believe them when they say the writing is fantastic, however. A word to the wise: if every noun needs an adjective to make it sparkle, you should use stronger nouns.
TALK BACK! Have you read this book? Did you find it helpful? Let us know in the comments!
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