Dr. Rebecca Joseph (California State University, Los Angeles) and Rebecca Stover (Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, VA)
The college essays are fourth in importance behind grades, test scores, and the rigor of completed coursework in many admissions office decisions (NACAC, 2009). Don’t waste this powerful opportunity to share your voice and express who you are to colleges. Great life stories make you jump off the page and into your match colleges
Develop an overall strategic essay writing plan. College essays should work together to help you communicate key qualities and stories not available anywhere else in your application.
Keep a chart of all essays required by each college, including short responses and optional essays. View each essay or short response as a chance to tell a new story and to share your core qualities.
Look for patterns between college essay requirements so that you can find ways to use essays more than once. This holds true for scholarship essays as well!
Plan to share positive messages and powerful outcomes. You can start with life or family challenges. You can describe obstacles you have overcome. You can reflect on your growth and development, including accomplishments and service. College admissions officers do not read minds, so tell them your powerful life stories.
Always write in the first person. Remember, these are autobiographical essays, even when you talk about other people. Remember the colleges are looking to accept you, not your relatives so use the one third and two thirds rule. If you choose to write about someone or something else, you must show how it affected you for the majority of the essay. Your essays show colleges why you belong on college campuses and share how you will enrich diverse communities!
Tell unique stories that only belong to you. Follow the Into, Through, Beyond approach. Lead the reader INTO your story with a powerful beginning – a story, an experience. Take them THROUGH your story with the context and key parts of your story. Make sure the reader understands your initiative, leadership, development, and continuity. End with the beyond message about how this story affected who you are now and who you want to be in college and potentially after college. The beyond can be implied in many pieces that are so strong that “moralizing” at the end is not necessary.
It’s not just the story that counts. It’s the choice of qualities a student wants the college to know about herself.
Use active writing: avoid passive sentences and incorporate powerful verbs. Show when possible, tell when summarizing.
Most importantly, make yourself come alive throughout this process. Write about yourself as passionately and powerfully as possible. Be proud of your life and accomplishments. Sell yourself!!