The college essay is an important part of your application. Your test scores and grades provide the admissions officer insight into your…well…test scores and grades. Some consider these numbers an indicator of your readiness for the “rigors” of college studies. This belief may have some merit, but it is the essay that can reveal so much more! The essay can set you apart from the other applicants who have similar test scores and grades. Look, there’s only ONE you! It’s time to figure out how to take advantage of the opportunity you’ve been given. Let’s try to open the door to admissions a little wider.
But there is only one YOU, and the essay is where you get to tell admissions who you are, what you’ve been doing in preparation for college, what connection you have with the college community you want to be a part of, and who the person is behind those test scores and grades.
It has the power to reveal so much more about you; your skills, your intentions, and your interests.
What the College Essay is Not
1. An Autobiography
The successful essay will tell a story of YOU. The key word here is “a”. The college essay is not meant to encapsulate your entire life’s experiences and purpose in less than 650 words.
2. A Thesis Paper
Likewise, you should not consider this a typical paper you would hand in to your high school english teacher. While it is true, every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, the college essay will not necessarily be held to strict term paper rules. We’ll explore more on this idea later.
3. Getting Started
This is often the most challenging part of the process. The idea of choosing what to write about can be overwhelming and stressful. And actually getting pen to paper (so to speak) can cause the most diligent student to procrastinate. Start with an outline! It’s likely you’ll do 2 or 3 of them before you move on to the essay part.
4. Tell It Like It Is
Are you second guessing your choice of subject matter, because you wonder if your topic is something that an admissions officer wants to read? Well, that is good, but a better course of action would be to pick a topic which comes naturally to you. Tell a story that makes you excited; one that gives the reader a feeling s/he is there with you and s/he actually knows you. This will be easier to breathe life into.
There are a million ways to do this, as you will quickly discover when searching the internet. Basically, brainstorming for college essay topics needs to be inspired by doing reflective exercises. After all, this is about YOU. Focus on finding helpful exercises which make you take stock of your accomplishments, characteristics, and life experiences. You can ask others (family members, friends) to help you with this by asking them to add items to add to these lists. Ask 5 friends to share 5 words that they would use to describe you, and then take the ones you may not agree with and ask them why they chose that. You may find that you are even more interesting than you thought.
6. Choosing Wisely
While you’re brainstorming, leave nothing out. Even if you hesitate to write down an idea, because you wonder if it’s too ordinary or too risky, write it down. Even if an idea does not work for your personal statement essay, it may be a wildly creative answer to a supplemental prompt at one or more colleges. It is acceptable to choose the ordinary and to take creative leaps. But understand, some topics are too common and can be difficult to retell with individuality. Some topics are way too broad and end up as a great story but with no take-away to reveal who you are.. Having trouble deciphering this riddle? Get help.
7. Keep This in Mind
Think of it like a novella where the story you tell leaves insights into your values. When reading your essay, admissions officers want to learn two things; more about you to determine whether or not you’ll be a good fit and whether or not you really want to be a student at their school.
8. For Now
Make a list. Actually, make lots of lists. Write the ideas down, and when the best begin to float to the top, start thinking about how these will tell your story…including the part where you envision the future.