The College Essay - Let the Student’s Voice be Heard!
Maryline Michel Kulewicz and Tracy Sullivan of College 101 Admissions Consultants
My favorite pastime is reading students’ college essays and essay tips from the masters - Admissions Officers. Does this make me a college nerd? Probably! But it certainly is why I do what I do!
Picking a topic for the college essay may end up being the most hair-pulling part of the application process. Students tend to search for the perfect topic that is not cliche, layered with the pressure to create a fascinating story that has never been told before. The truth is, all stories have been told before: the comeback story after a basketball injury, the mission trip that changed your life, the patience you showed after vacationing with 30 family members in a small cabin with one bathroom. The lesson is that there is no one unique topic - they have all been done.
Does this mean that you settle for mediocrity? No, but it does mean that you need to differentiate yourself by finding YOUR voice, make sure it is heard, and unveil the fantastic and authentic YOU in your story. Here are a few tips from the masters. FREE RESOURCE: email me for the full list of tips - #5 is especially valuable about being specific!
1. Just make sure that the story you’re telling is uniquely YOURS.
“I believe everyone has a story worth telling. Don’t feel like you have to have had a huge, life-changing, drama-filled experience. Sometimes the seemingly smallest moments lead us to the biggest breakthroughs.” Maggie Schuh, high school English teacher in St. Louis.
2. We want to learn about growth.
“Some students spend a lot of time summarizing the plot or describing their work and the “in what way” part of the essay winds up being one sentence. The part that is about you is the most important part. The majority of the essay should be about your response and reaction to the work. How did it affect or change you?” Dean J, admissions officer and blogger from University of Virginia.
3. Keep the story focused on a discrete moment in time.
“By zeroing in on one particular aspect of what is, invariably, a long story, you may be better able to extract meaning from the story. So instead of talking generally about playing percussion in the orchestra, hone in on a huge cymbal crash marking the climax of the piece. The specificity of the story not only helps focus the reader’s attention, but also opens the door to deeper reflection on what the story means to you”. Mark Montgomery, former Associate Dean at the University of Denver
4. Write like a journalist.
“The first few sentences must capture the reader’s attention, provide a gist of the story, and give a sense of where the essay is heading. Think about any article you’ve read—how do you decide to read it? You read the first few sentences and then decide. The same goes for college essays. A strong lead will place your reader in the “accept” mindset from the beginning of the essay. A weak lead will have your reader thinking “reject”—a mindset from which it’s nearly impossible to recover.” Brad Schiller, MIT graduate and CEO of Prompt
5. Write like you speak.
“You should use words and phrases that you would actually use in everyday conversation. The most meaningful essays are those where I feel like the student is sitting next to me, just talking to me”. Kim Struglinski, admissions counselor from Vanderbilt University.
6. Read it aloud.
“Reading your essay aloud is the best way to corroborate that your essay is revealing your voice. Do you feel the emotions? Is it a good story? Does it sound a bit drab and need some tweaks? And, will the admission reader say ‘yes, I can see this student making a difference at our college’?” Tracy Sullivan & Maryline Michel Kulewicz, College 101 Admission Consultants
7. Attention Parents.
Advice agreed upon by all admission officers - parents should never write a student’s essay. Admission Officers absolutely know when they do. It is the easiest way for a student to get denied! Parents can support their child, review the essay, but don’t let that adult voice creep into the student’s essay!
One final note, there are so many admission resources out there. However, I enjoy reading Rick Clark’s Georgia Tech Admission Blog. Clark is the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. He is knowledgeable, honest, and tells an engaging story. Hint: elements of a good essay!
The college tips were paraphrased from College Essay Guys’s “35+ Best College Essay Tips from College Application Experts”.
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