* remember that the essay is the only piece of the application puzzle that the student has complete control over! The essay is power! When should I start?

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It’s that time of year again!

Time for the College Application process to turn serious!

Teachers, students and parents can all attest to the fact that the college application process can be daunting and stressful! Life becomes a whirlwind of Naviance, teacher recommendations, SAT’s; ACT’s, GPA’s, resumes, college applications, transcripts, and then-the college application essay! For students, this is it: the pivotal moment deciding their futures.

As a Shen English teacher for over 30 years, most of them teaching high school seniors, as well as a mother of two daughters who successfully navigated the college application process, I empathize with the angst that many feel when the Fall of senior year rolls around. Over time I’ve graded thousands of college application essays, and hosted various college admissions counselors to dispense advice. The following is a condensed version.

Why write it?

The college essay has become an integral part of the application and can even be the deciding factor between applicants with similar GPA’s, SAT’s and resumes. The essay allows you to stand out, to personalize the application and let the colleges know you. Via transcript, resume and teacher recommendations, colleges already have your cumulative average, know what clubs, sports, volunteer activities you’ve participated in, and jobs you’ve had. So don’t repeat this information; reveal something else about yourself. Make you stand out! The essay is the perfect vehicle to do so. Look at it as an opportunity to connect personally.

* remember that the essay is the only piece of the application puzzle that the student has complete control over! The essay is power!

When should I start?

Ideally begin writing NOW so that you can solicit some feedback, edit, reflect and then re-write. The earlier you start, the better it can be. But remember, you must use an authentic student voice and clearly answer one of the prompts. Many students wait until the very last minute and dash off an essay that may not reflect their best writing. By beginning early, you craft a better essay, and relieve some of the stress that procrastination causes!

Where do I go for help?

Ask, someone who is not emotionally connected to you; someone who can be honest and objective. Your family is often either too hard or too soft. I know! I passed off the responsibility of my daughters’ essays to a trusted colleague. Friends are also too subjective and lack experience in dispensing advice. Ask the experts: teachers, guidance counselors and private tutors can guide you through the difficult process of finding the best topic to showcase you, while giving honest, objective feedback and ensuring you maintain an authentic student voice.

* Know that the application committee will compare the essay to your score on the writing portion of the SAT as well as to your English Regents score. Have no more than one (preferably) or two others give advice; stay true to your style and voice. Admissions counselors say they can spot a “fake”-one that is too polished, doesn’t ring true, or is out of line with your other English scores.

Who reads them? How do I stand out?

Remember that college admissions counselors and committees read thousands of applications. They have years of experience sifting through these essays. Follow all of the guidelines : no more than 600 words; no fewer than 300, and clearly address one of the prompts. Begin with a hook, or effective/interesting beginning to engage the reader and draw him/her into your story. Use an active voice, and be descriptive. Bring your story to life ; give the committee a glimpse into who you are and why you will be a valuable member of the college community!

*Use these tips to craft a dynamic essay!

And finally, save the final draft. With a little tweaking, you may be able to submit it for scholarship purposes in the future!

*If you’d like further tips or advice, I can be reached at tdbouch@nycap.rr.com

Cell: 518- 495- 7628

twitter: @debbouchard13 and FB: Deborah Papa Bouchard

Happy writing!

Deborah Bouchard

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