College Essay Recommendations

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1 College Essay Recommendations Use their own voice, but don't try too hard to be funny and don't write about the first time they got drunk! make sure the essay is about you and tells the admissions people things they could never learn by looking at your transcript or test scores. Do not allow others to be involved in the writing process. (other than proof reading). It will be obvious if the essay is not written by the applicant. To the extent possible (as perhaps limited / dictated by prescribed topic(s)), the student should write about something / someone that he or she cares about. Proofread, proofread, proofread! Allow plenty of time to write a first draft, proof multiple times for edits, and finalize essay (don't even THINK about waiting until the night before the deadline!) Take the time to carefully edit the name(s) of colleges in each version, if applicable (i.e. "...that's why I want to attend XXX University...") I think the two most important pieces of information about essays are : -write about something very salient in one's life; don't write on a topic that "sounds impressive" -write in a style that also reflects who one is; if witty, but don't try to write in a style that isn't comfortable and isn't telling of a personal side Don't write about your summer trip to Israel (very specific to us and other schools our kids apply to like Brandeis and Penn) or any other event that you know five of your friends could write about. Every Jewish person who applies to a place like Brandeis is going to write about something Jewish and they won't stand out from the crowd. Your essay is really the only piece of your application over which you have total control. Make it the best thing you've ever written. The strength (or weakness) of your essay sets the tone for how the rest of your application is read. If your essay is weak, everything else in the file will seem to lack pizzazz but if your essay is amazing it may make the weaker parts of your application look a little better. Make sure the essay could only be written by you. You must present a personal perspective that allows colleges to view an aspect of you that is not reflected elsewhere in your application.

2 The opening sentence needs to "grab" the reader. Colleges read so many essays that an imaginative opening will get their attention. Often my students write about highly personal issues that they would not be comfortable sharing with the community at large. For example, one student wrote about her relationship with her disabled twin and it included feelings that were ambivalent, to say the least. It could have easily been misinterpreted by younger students. I always ask permission of my seniors before I share a personal essay. When writing about an experience, issue, or person important to you, be sure to focus on "why"---we don't want a travelogue of your trip to France, or a description of what comprises an OB solo, etc. we want to know about your reaction to the experience or person's influence. If you are not known for your humor, don't use your college essay as your first attempt to be funny. The content need to be personal and you need to say it with passion! When I worked at Wesleyan, I was impressed by essays that were engaging, intellectually discussed a topic, and depending on the application, discussed their applications strengths and weaknesses. All in all, most essays are good and a few are bad (the ones who try to be too creative, or too brainy and fail) and others are superb. Superb essays only help a mediocre application if: 1. it places context on the student's achievements, background, weaknesses 2. it maturely discusses their passions and desires 3. it allows the reader to get new information on the candidate that is not presented anywhere else in the application. There is no right topic to right about. On the other hand, there are wrong approaches. Having the quarterback talk about his passion about winning the game is cliche. I would be more impressed if he talked about his academic passion. Having a student write about a death in the family is okay, but if that student uses that as a scapegoat for a poor academic record, that doesn't show maturity. Lastly, those essays that revealed an intellectual epiphany are rare but impressive. Very few students have them in high school, and for those that find their intellectual passion while in class, doing a science project or writing a play, and somehow tie it to their collegiate goals, that'll impress any sound admissions counselor.

3 All in all, be yourself. I want to hear a student's unique voice. "I always tell students that it is what you learn after you know it all that counts." ~ Harry S Truman ~ While college admission officers may claim that quality of the application essay carries x amount of weight in the decision, I believe that an excellent essay sways readers to fight in committee for admitting an applicant and a poor essay kills support for an otherwise promising applicant. Although in my experience, giving general advice about writing essays has less impact than discussing with individuals my reactions to their drafts, two concepts strike me as being worth consideration: 1. No subject is inherently a good choice or a bad choice for an essay, so a student given an option to choose a topic should put aside what she thinks that an admission committee wants to hear and write as well as she can about something she knows well and cares about. 2. Good writing is lean, progressive, imaginative, grounded in specifics, energized by apt verbs, and respectful of the reader's intelligence -- telling a story, for instance, in a way that reveals rather than claims that the writer has learned or matured through some situation or circumstance. I give my kids this list of do's and don'ts: Do: go for depth rather than breadth, answer the question, write about something you care about, use the essay (to explain a problem, illustrate an interest, etc.), be sincere, be interesting, proofread Don't: write a glorified list or a travelogue, or blame others for your situation (my history teacher didn't like me) I am a high school counselor but had an admissions counselor say the following: When you have an essay idea, it's like you're looking through a camera with a wide angle lens. Now you need to put on the zoom lens and focus on just one part of your idea. Example-Don't talk about your day at the fair. Talk about that roller coaster ride or that sticky cotton candy that coated your fingers and tongue! The idea, of course, is being to get the kids to focus on a specific idea not a generality. I would tell them to be themselves. If they are not humorous, don't write a humorous essay. Clear, concise, insightful. Share something about yourself that you feel is a special part of who you are and what you would like to accomplish at college, in your career, in your community and/or in your lifetime.

4 Too often, college bound students get caught up in what they perceive to be the essay game. My simple advice... Be yourself. Say what you wish to say...not what you think admission officers want to hear Be honest about who you are and what you think when writing the essay. Remember schools are trying to make sure you are going to be a GOOD fit at their institution. Believe it or not we want you to succeed and that is why there is an admission review. We don't want to set anyone up for failure. 1. Own it 2. Keep it short 3. Make one point well 4. Do not use a thesaurus 5. Like it I would urge you to stay away from the "be unique" trap. Instead, it is important that students be themselves. Many get too hung up on gimmicks and forget that they will write best and impress most when they are writing about something they care about, regardless of topic. Some other quick pieces of advice that I'm sure you've already covered: Show the essay to someone, preferably an English teacher, to catch the minor syntax things you don't catch because you know what you meant to say. For example, a fresh pair of eyes will hopefully see that you wrote "fiend" when you should have written "friend." You will be able to change those errors but if the reader starts offering all sorts of unsolicited advice about what he or she thinks we want to hear thank him or her politely and don't change a thing if you don't want to. The essay needs to be a reflection of you and the most boring (and unhelpful) essays for admissions committee members to read are those where students are just stating what they think we want to hear. At the time you apply to college, your gpa is out of your control. Except for trying to raise your test scores they are, at least at that time, out of your control. You ask for letters of recommendation, but the content is out of your control. The only thing that is within your control is the essay. The rest of your application tells an admission committee some things about you based upon other people's interpretation (grades, test scores, recommendations). Either directly or indirectly, the essay is a way for YOU to tell the committee about you. Be yourself, write your own essay, use your own voice and have a little fun with it. It is not a book report. Remember, someone is going to be reading yours, along side THAT day and the same for the next 12 weeks.

5 It should be your own work. Others can and should read your essay and give you feedback, but the language and style should be yours alone. The essay should be something that only you could write. When considering a topic, you should ask if this essays communicates your own thoughts and experiences The essay can take virtually any format (autobiographical, topical fictional, etc.) but should communicate three things: how well you think, how well you write and who you are. You should limit your topic as much as possible. If writing an autobiographical essay, you may want to consider writing about one moment in time. Illustrate rather than describe your feelings and experiences. Write one good essay rather than a number of weaker ones, if possible. Rewrite and edit as many times as is necessary to produce a solid piece. Read other students essays and use the skills developed in critiquing others essays to judge your own. It can be more useful to read weak essays than stronger ones. Have others read and proofread your essays. Type it. It is very difficult to write good essays about the three D s: Death, Divorce and Disaster. If you choose one of these topics, remember that you should focus less on the events that occurred than on how they affected you. Another exceedingly common topic is the foreign travel experience. Avoid writing about anything money can buy. If you are comfortable, don t be afraid to use humor or be daring. But don t feel an obligation to do either if they do not come natural to you. Use the essay topic as a metaphor. Do not dwell on specific experiences but on your perception of and reaction to those experiences. An essay should not be used to describe what you ve done but to communicate who you are.

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