by Martha Green Quirk, M.A.
The essay is the one piece of the whole college application over which the applicant has total control. Think about it. Your courses are taken and the grades are earned, the test scores are recorded, the references are written, and the achievements are completed. This is your record through your junior year in high school, and this is the record upon which college admissions officers will base their decisions – for the most part.
Yes, of course, the senior year is important—and certainly critical. But the main thing seniors can now do is write a dynamite essay that will help to make a difference in the way the application is reviewed. Will it make the total difference? No. But it will help tell a story about you and your passions or your commitments or your relationships or how you have matured, changed, become more tolerant, independent or responsible or simply that you’ve grown up.
Tell a story
Your essay should tell a compelling story that gives new insights into you—beyond test scores and grades and courses taken. The essay is also used by colleges as an indicator of your potential to write well at the college level—something you will be doing every day. This is your opportunity to show that you can think clearly, organize your ideas, and use correct grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. Revealing a little of your creativity and your personality through your writing is also a good strategy!
A good essay is particularly significant if no one at the college has met you in person. Therefore, your essay needs to convey a sense of who you are and what you will bring to that college.
Make the story your essay tells so interesting and compelling that you broadcast to the admissions committee your readiness to be admitted to that college. And while your essay should be impressive, it’s important to be yourself. Don’t use “big” words because you think they’ll impress the reader if this isn’t a normal way for you to write. Admissions readers will see right through this!
Your essay should be about something important to YOU
Writing an original, heartfelt, and reader-enjoyable college application essay can be a challenging but an exciting opportunity. Or it can be an overwhelming task. Your attitude about writing and submitting a good essay is important. Remember that your essay is a personal statement that will reveal more of who you are to the people who will make the decision about your college choices.
The directions on the individual college applications will give you guidelines on essay topics. Compile the essay questions from all of your applications and see which ones are duplicates, which ones would be fun to write about, and which questions inspire you to write creatively.
Reading all the questions will help you get started as you make selections from each college’s suggested topics. Beginning this process will give you some ideas as you stare at that empty sheet of paper in front of you or at your blank computer screen.
There are two common types of essays: those that require a response to a particular question and those that encourage an open-ended answer. Read them carefully and decide how you want to convey your ideas.
If you have a choice of topics, write an essay on something you feel strongly about, not a trivial discourse on your summer vacation or your favorite class. If you can convince the reader why you care deeply about your topic, it will have a positive impact.
What do you want colleges to know about YOU?
Your essay is your chance to tell your colleges what you want them to know about you through your writing and your thought process. Typically, you’ll have some leeway to write about almost anything. Your writing might delve into how you were touched or were impacted by something.
One idea would be to tell about someone or something that had a significant influence on you and how that influence changed your life. Maybe you would want to write about a book you read or a movie you saw that affected you deeply; talk about how or why it impacted you. Include important details that bring the reader into the experience you just had.
Why is this event, book, or person so meaningful to you, and how can you convey the essence of that to the readers? Your essay should go beneath the surface stuff and into the deep-down, pull-it-out honest and engaging stuff that grabs the reader and says, “I have an extraordinary experience or idea to share with you.”
An admissions director once said, “The personal essay is like a fingerprint. Each one is unique.” So give adequate time and attention to crafting an essay that shows your uniqueness, your creativity, and your writing ability.
After reading thousands of mediocre essays, admissions officers are glad to come upon that unique essay that is fresh and imaginative.
Martha Green Quirk, M.A., has been active in the college admissions field for over 30 years. In 2008 she founded her own independent educational consulting company, College Admissions Consulting (CAC), in St. Louis, Missouri. She is an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC).
© Franz Pfluegl l Dreamstime.com