COLLEGE APPLICATIONS: The Essay
Applying for admission to a college or university requires deliberate planning and preparation. By the time you sit down to complete the actual application, you have likely done a significant amount of research and study of prospective educational institutions and selected a few appropriate options.
Let’s face it. First impressions are worth a lot, particularly in college admissions offices. These folks receive thousands of applications, and they reject the lion’s share of them. How can you make your application stand out from the rest of the pile in a positive way?
The first, and most obvious, thing you can do is to be sure all of your paperwork is filled out clearly, neatly and legibly. If an admissions counselor cannot read your information, your application will surely be rejected.
Crinkled, messy papers may be allowed in kindergarten, but not in college. This is the time to be as professional as possible.
WRITE YOUR OWN ESSAY.
Unfortunately, this is a very real issue. Essays are bought and sold daily, particularly on the internet. Be forewarned. College admissions staffs are smart people. They have seen it all, and they can spot a canned essay from a distance. Do not attempt to plagiarize. Your own future is at stake. Why ruin your academic credibility, before you even begin?
REVEAL YOUR HEART.
Why do you suppose colleges require admissions essays at all? Don’t they realize you already have enough homework and deadlines to meet?
Unlike your academic transcript, your personal reference letters and your standardized testing scores, the admissions essay offers you an opportunity to express yourself. It gives admissions counselors a glimpse into who you are, what you stand for and what makes you special and unique. At the same time, the essay allows you to demonstrate your flair for communication. You can really shine here, by expressing your views clearly and creatively.
USE THE TOPIC AS A SPRINGBOARD
Usually, the topic is an open-ended question or statement. Here are a few examples:
Recount a personal experience that helped to shape the person you have become.
Describe the individual who has impacted your life the most and why.
Name your most valuable personality trait, and describe how this plays into your life goals.
How would your best friend describe your personal character?
If you were to write your own obituary, what would you say?
Select a work of literature that has significantly affected your world view, and explain how this has been so.
Before you begin to write, take a few days to ponder the assignment. Instead of merely answering the question, try to use the topic as a launching point for deliberately painting a portrait of yourself and what you stand for.
DEMONSTRATE YOUR LANGUAGE SKILLS.
Remember the rules of grammar, punctuation and language usage here. Perhaps the words of your freshman composition teacher will return to haunt you, as you write your essay. If not, you will want to pull out your grammar textbook to revisit those rules.
AVOID SLANG AND PROFANITY.
You might consider the college admissions essay as a written interview, of sorts. If you were preparing for an in-person interview, you would surely wear your finest professional-looking apparel. You would bathe and groom yourself appropriately and style your hair to your best advantage. Why should the written application be any different? Use your best language, not your worst! Look your best, even on paper!
MAKE IT MEMORABLE.
A bland and boring essay will cause any application to be quickly forgotten and probably rejected. Even if your grades and test scores are borderline for a college’s admissions standards, a shining essay may be just enough to convince that school’s staff to give you a chance.
Avoid trying to sound cute, as it usually comes across as trite and contrived. Instead, be honest and as convincing as possible. Use active and colorful verbs (instead of passive ones, such as “is,” “has,” and even “does.”). Consider the difference between these two statements:
1. There are three reasons why water must be conserved to protect the earth.
2. We must conserve water for three reasons. The earth depends on us!
Which is more dynamic and interesting?
Admissions staffers must wade through mountains of paperwork. You gain nothing by boring them, but you can earn big rewards by enticing them!
PROOFREAD TILL IT’S PERFECT.
Nothing defeats an application faster than misspelled words, run-on sentences, fragments or other mechanical errors. If you desire admission to college, then you must present an essay that clearly demonstrates you have mastered high school language.
Of course, you will run a spell-check and a grammar-check on your computer before submitting your application. Do not merely rely on this. Computers will not identify homonyms. They often overlook grammatical errors as well.
Read your entire application aloud. Check sentence flow. Ask another capable writer to proofread it for you as well. Set it down for a day or two, and read it again.
FULFILL AND EXCEED THE REQUIREMENTS.
Leave no blanks empty on your application. Include all required items. If the instructions call for two essays, you obviously must write them both.
Although some high school teachers may offer partial credit for incomplete answers, college admissions staffs do not.
Of course, if the assignment calls for 500 words, you cannot attempt to submit a 1,000-word essay. Use the tools in your word processing program to count the words. Revise as many times as necessary, until you have a polished piece of the assigned length.
SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION ON TIME.
No extensions. Get it done, and turn it in before the deadline, or you are out. It’s as simple as that.
WAIT PATIENTLY FOR A RESPONSE.
It may feel like forever, but you will receive an answer in due time. Perhaps you will wait weeks or months, but it will come. Badgering the admissions office for a response will work against you. Be an adult, and wait for the answer. Before you know it, the mail will arrive!