THE COLLEGE ESSAYFor BCCHS Juniors and Seniors
Does every college require essaysfor admission? NO!
Except for the University of California (UC) system, most public universities (including the California State University (CSU) do not ask for them as part of the admissions package. Private colleges almost always do require them.
To those colleges who require them, are the essays important? Absolutely!If essays are required as part of the application, you can be certain admissions officers will read them. More colleges are now requiring multiple essays as part of the application. Essays are becoming more important every year.
SERIOUSLY..So take the essays seriously. They are a blank slate in which every applicant has an equal chance to share compelling stories with the admissions committees.
Why do admissions officers want to spend their time reading essays? They want to see how well you write. They want to get to know you better. They want to gain some insight into your level of maturity and perspective.They want to judge applications via a more humanistic method than that of merely crunching numbers. You are so much more than a statistic or score!They want to discover your uniqueness.
The 5 Most Important Rules of Great College Essays
Follow these rules, and youll already write better essays than most of the students applying to college this year.
Rule #1: Dont try to impress the reader; just be honest. If you try to guess what admissions officers want to hear, youre already on the wrong path. Dont inject meaning that wasnt there, or try to extract life lessons you didnt learn. Dont be afraid to admit what you arent good at. Above all, be certain you answer the question.
The Dreaded McEssay 90% of the applications I read contain what I call McEssays usually five-paragraph essays that are mostly abstractions and unsupported generalization. They are technically correct because they are organized and have correct sentence structure and spelling, but they are boring
Parke Muth University of Virginia
More.If an essay starts out, I have been a member of the student council and it has taught me leadership, perseverance and hard work, I can almost recite the rest of the essay without reading it. Each of the three middle paragraphs gives a bit of support to an abstraction, and the final paragraph restates what has already been said. A McEssay is not wrong, but it is not going to be a positive factor in the admission decision. It will not allow a student to stand out.
Rule #2: Own your stories. Youve got to write essays that nobody else will write. Find a unique story (which is difficult). Insert detail and take ownership (which is easier). Your admissions officer would rather read an interesting experience that is personal to you than a droning attempt to pass along great wisdom. After all, you are 17 or 18 years old, thus you arent expected to write like a grizzled sage.
Rule #3: Dont simply repeat information from the application.Use the essay to explain what an admissions officer doesnt know from your application, orUse the essay to give more insight into things you did list on your application.
Rule #4: Tell a good story in your own voice. This is not an essay for your high school English class thats academic writing. Important point College essays are for storytelling, thus are more fun. You are totally obligated to entertain your reader. Use your own voice informal, conversational, not stilted. However, humor isnt the only way to entertain.
Rule #5: Avoid clichesA clich is something thats been said or used so many times that it no longer carries any weight. Its not insightful. It has no oomph. Example: Its not whether you win or loseits how you play the game. Clich college essays are the worst kind of McEssays. They bore admissions officers and make them roll their eyes.
Clich essay topics likely to elicit eye-rolling from readersHow my trip to Europe broadened my cultural horizons. When I participated in a community service project, I learned that its important to help people. My leadership (or teamwork) position taught me to work well with others.
Good topics gone bad (cliches) There is nothing wrong with writing about athletics, performing arts, travel, community service, or leadership -- Those topics only become cliches when you forget to follow the five rules we just covered.
Writing TipsColleges dont expect students to write like Ernest Hemingway. But every student must tell a good story.
Writing Tip #1: Dont tense up; be natural.Your essay should sound like you. Were not saying you should use slang. A good approach is to write like you were speaking to an adult you respect, but also like and with whom you feel comfortable. Also, write as if youre brainstorming then revise. Spend as much time thinking as you do writing and brainstorm!
One Way to BrainstormStart listing people who are important to you and, for each, a few character traits and the way in which youve been influenced. Examples:Team Coach Honest, demanding, friendly, constructively critical Taught me athletic skills, sportsmanship, good role model, gets the best from me. Grandmother Courageous, optimistic, patient, generous, young at heart Taught me by example to rise above problems, introduced me to culture, travel, helps me with parents.
So lets say you look at your list and decide to write about your grandmother. You want the reader to get a sense of her, so it is necessary to describe her. However, a detailed portrait is not required, only a thumbnail sketch. Whats important is her character, not her appearance..
Heres what might result: To look at my petite grandmother whose gray curls are always carefully coifed, youd never know that she has survived the tragedy of war in Europe, including the loss of family members. It is hard to imagine that her neatly manicured hands labored many hours at a sewing machine in order to provide an education for her younger sisters when they first arrived in this country. Yet, in spite of these struggles, she has remained optimistic about life, an outlook she has passed on to me. She has also introduced me to culture and the joys of travel, and although I was a somewhat reluctant companion when I was younger, I have learned to value her company and insight.
Writing tip #2: Find a good opener. Your first sentence needs to get their attention. Good sentences are expressive. Compare these openersThroughout my life, Ive been fortunate enough to live in a variety of different places. In each new city, I learned something more about myself and about others.
Wouldnt you agree that most readers will not be eager to read what lies ahead in that story?
I think this ones betterIts hard to find a good steak in Loma Mira, California. In fact, its hard to find a lot of lifes essentials in a small desert town of only 1,200 people. The day before my family moved there when I was six, my mother told me that there wasnt even an ice cream shop there. I did not take the news well.
Good openers from real essaysEven at age nine, I had a knack for business. Thats when the snow cone empire first took off. I think Holden Caulfield is a jerk. There, I said it. Ive been dying to say it ever since we read The Catcher in the Rye in my sophomore English class. I can make a mean hamburger. In fact, Im a professional. Ive got four years of professional hamburger-making experience. Everything to do with horses smells bad. They smell bad. Their saddles smell bad. All their blankets and medicines smell bad. So, as a competitive rider, I pretty much stink all the time.
Writing tip #3: Use details Details make writing interesting. Sensory details are GREAT details.Details make readers feel like they were with you on the stage during the play, in the art class learning to paint, or on the bridge before you bungee jumped. Details help you take ownership of your story. The specifics are what make the story yours.
Example of writing without details
I was extremely nervous before the orchestra started playing. However, when I saw my dad in the audience, it helped me to relax and play well.
Example of writing with detailI remember how nervous I was sitting there on the stage waiting for us to start playing. My violin was resting on my shoulder but I could feel it shaking against my chin. I scanned across the dimly lit crowd and somehow, I found my dad. From behind the video camera he was holding, he mouthed those words that he used to yell from the stands before I would go up to bat in little league. Now, I was about to play as the first chair violinist in my community orchestra the biggest performance of my life. I couldnt hear him, but I could make out those words Go get em. As the conductor raised his wand, I smiled at my dad, nodded back at him, and started to play.
Writing tip #4: Dont make big claims your essay doesnt back up. If you learned a life-changing lesson, say so. But if you didnt, dont say so. You dont need a life lesson to write a great essay. If you claim that one community service project taught you how important it is to help people, and you never volunteered anywhere again, your essay loses some credibility.
Writing tip #5: Dont ask yourself or anyone else What should I write about? The appropriate question really is, What should I tell them about me? Dont ask, Do you like it? but rather What do you think it says about me? Ask yourself, If college deans were to place me with roommates based on this essay, would they be able to choose compatible people? Would it give them enough to go on?
UC Essay PromptsInstructionsRespond to both prompts, using a maximum of 1,000 words. You may allocate the word count as you wish. If you choose to respond to one prompt at greater length, we suggest your shorter answer be no less than 250 words. Stay within the word limit as closely as you can. A little over 1,012 words, for example is fine. Prompt #1: Describe the world you come from for example, your family, community or school and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations. Prompt #2: Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality of accomplishment makes your proud and how does it relate to the person you are?
General Tips for UC Essays Find your best story and consider which UC prompt it will fit. Read the prompts carefully, and make sure that you address every part of the prompt. Strong answers to UC prompts often address how youll bring these talents, experiences and lessons with you to college, and how that will impact other students in the campus community
They stress clarityUC admissions officers stress the importance of clarity in your essay. In the case of the UC application, it is more important to be clear than it is to be entertaining.
Tips for UC Prompt #1 Prompt #1: Describe the world you come from You dont necessarily have to write an essay thats entirely about your family, community or school. You have to choose a story that lets them see one part of your world, whatever that part may be. Most good stories relate to your world in some way. So find a story you want to tell, and identify from what part of your world this story hails family, community, school, etc.
Examples of essays that describe a students worldIf you work at Burger King and share the money with your parents to pay bills, youre writing about the world of your family. If you volunteer at a local homeless shelter right down the street from your house, youre writing about the world of your community. If you write about your experiences in student government and what youve tried to accomplish to improve your school for other students, youre writing about your world at school.
Dont forget to address how this experience has influenced your dreams and aspirations. Dreams and aspirations dont necessarily have to be big and lofty, like a career goal or what you expect from your life after college. They just have to be true.You can describe short-term goals or plans, like what you want to study in college, or how youre hoping to play the lead role in the play next year, or that youll likely be promoted to manager at your job next year, which will give you experience and a pay raise. Those things are all dreams and aspirations.
Tips for UC Prompt #2Prompt #2 : Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment..
Dont necessarily use this essay to recount your most impressive accomplishment. Instead, select something that is/was very important to you. If sticking with AP Euro and fighting through the D you got first quarter meant a whole lot more than getting the top spot in the fall talent show, consider sharing your AP Euro experience and why it was so important to you.
MoreMake sure to address the part about why this experience makes you proud. Remember that your story must explain how this experience relates to the person that you are. If you simply recite your accomplishments without putting in the kind of details that helps you own your stories, the reader wont learn anything about you.
Misc. PointersWatch spelling there is no excuse for errors. Dont repeat lists of activities. Dont let mom or dad or anyone else write the essay. Think small anecdotes and rich details work. Be free with format the traditional five-paragraph essay may not be the most appropriate to use. Dont write about writing, SATs or the college process. Accentuate the positive even in a painful experience. Dont be intentionally provocative, and try not to state opinions about controversial subjects.
Final thoughtsApplication essays are the best way to help admissions officers get to know who you are beyond grades and test scores. Make the most of the opportunity by starting now and spending the time to write thoughtful, revealing stories. Dont be afraid; be confident. Have the guts to tell the stories you want to tell. Write something that makes you proud when you read it. If you do, admissions officers will probably enjoy your stories.