The College Application Essay Presented by: Chris McGovern Bater Class of 1980



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The College Application Essay

  • Presented by:
  • Chris McGovern Bater
  • Class of 1980
  • “And because I found I had nothing else to write about, I presented myself as a subject.”
  • ~ Montaigne
  • "The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. If you can't make something out of a little experience, you probably won't be able to make it out of a lot."
  • ~ Flannery O'Connor
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

Anatomy of a College Application

  • Personal Data
  • Grades
  • Scores (SAT, ACT, APs, SAT IIs)
  • Raves
  • Teacher Recommendations
  • Extracurricular, Personal & Volunteer Activities and Work Experience
  • Short Answer
  • Essay
  • Supplemental Applications
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

Anatomy of a College Application

  • How to showcase “YOU”.
    • Gather all of your information.
    • Determine the best way to present it.
  • The College Application is a “package”.
    • You don’t want your essay to repeat or conflict with other pieces of the application.
  • Fewer and fewer colleges offer the chance to interview.
    • This may be your only chance to deliver your personal message.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • 500 words to personally introduce yourself to the college of your choice.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • SELL yourself to the school.
  • Help the Admissions Committee “categorize” you.
  • Coming from Bronx Science, you are already categorized.
  • Now tell them something that they don’t already know about you.
  • TELL YOUR STORY.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • What is more important?
    • What you write?
    • or
    • How you write?
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

What is the Admissions Committee Looking for?

  • Who are you and what is important to you as a person?
  • How you grew as a person as a result of a specific situation?
  • How you have grown in a position that you have held?
  • How you have become the person you are now?
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

What is the Admissions Committee Looking for?

  • Bryn Mawr College is very specific:
    • Demonstrate your ability to express your views clearly and rationally, to resolve intellectual problems and to make new discoveries,
    • and
    • Illustrate that you are a good match for Bryn Mawr by revealing your thoughts, attitudes, experiences, aspirations, and personal qualities.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

What is the Admissions Committee Looking for in your Essay or Personal Statement?

  • YOU
  • WHY US?
  • CREATIVITY
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

What is the Admissions Committee Looking for in your Essay or Personal Statement?

    • sensitivity
    • tolerance
    • compassion
    • integrity
    • motivation
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

Why your choice of essay topic matters

  • “The college regards your choices as a way to evaluate your preferences, values, mental processes, creativity, sense of humor, and depth of knowledge. Your writing reflects your power of persuasion, organizational abilities, style, and mastery of standard written English.”
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

How to get started

  • Review several complete application forms
  • Prewriting Brainstorming
    • focus on strengths of character and personality, NOT things that you have done
  • Create a self-outline
    • look for patterns and connections that help prove your point
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • Keep your focus narrow and personal.
  • Your essay must prove a single point or thesis.
  • The reader must be able to find your main idea and follow it from beginning to end.
  • Essays that are to comprehensive may end up sounding watered down.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • Prove Your Point
    • Develop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, quotations, examples, and reasons. There's a big difference between simply stating a point of view and letting an idea unfold in the details.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • Three basic styles of essays:
    • Standard Essay
      • Take two or three points from your self-outline, give a paragraph to each, and make sure you provide plenty of evidence. Choose things not apparent from the rest of your application or "light up" some of the activities and experiences listed there.
    • Less is More
      • In this format, you focus on a single interesting point about yourself. It works well for brief essays of a paragraph or half a page.
    • Narrative Essay
      • tells a short and vivid story. Omit the introduction, write one or two narrative paragraphs that grab and engage the reader's attention, then explain what this little tale reveals about you.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • Tell a Story
    • Employ elements of story-telling including action, sensory detail, even dialogue, to make your essay compelling.
    • Remember that "action" can be physical or mental (your thought process).
    • Use your true, unique voice to tell the story, not a flowery, inflated or pretentious style. If you are thorough and thoughtful in expressing the meaning in your experience, this will be impressive enough.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • Defend a Belief or Value
    • Pay attention to the issues you follow in the news, discuss with your friends or write about in your journal. Once you've identified why this particular issue is important to you, ask yourself, "So what?" Then answer this underlying question with your essay, which also gives you an opportunity to reveal your maturity and perspective by demonstrating your connection to the larger world. Bonus: you'll also show that you are ready to be an active participant in a diverse community, such as a college.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • Write a Character Portrait
    • Reveal what aspects of character you value. Do pay attention to the difference between exterior and interior descriptions.
    • Do remember that this character portrait is meant to reveal you: not only who you are now, but who you will become as a result. You would do well, though, to show support or plan to support values in college. Is there a research project, program, application, or work of art that has personal meaning and that you intend to pursue?
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • WARNING!
    • Don't try to strategize or "game" the application process.
    • There is no way you can ever really know what "they" are looking for.
    • JUST BE HONEST AND TRUE.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Essay

  • The Topic
    • should be personal to you
    • don’t be afraid to reveal your thoughts, feelings, and opinions
  • The Tone
    • find your “natural voice” for expressing these ideas
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

Consider Your Audience

  • During admissions season, admissions officers read for six to eight hours per day. Processing up to 30 files per day.
  • Your essay may only get 90 seconds of attention.
  • MAKE IT COUNT!
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

Consider Your Audience

  • Make the essay memorable.
  • While the essay should be bold, it should also be tasteful.
  • The best remembered essays are those that move us emotionally or strike a familiar chord.
  • Admissions officers read hundreds of essays, so sameness is detrimental.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

Writing Tips from Stanford University

  • Answer the question, understand the purpose of the essay, and consider your audience.
  • Tell a story
  • Tell a story only you can tell.
  • Reflect on the meaning of the story.
  • Write about the specific rather than the general.
  • Don't insult your readers' intelligence by turning the essay into a resume in prose or by attempting to explain away some short coming.
  • Avoid gimmicks of any kind.
  • Don't exceed the suggested length.
  • KEEP IT SIMPLE. Don't use "big" words just to use them. Construct short sentences.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

The Process

  • Pique the reader's interest
  • Hook them in.
  • Tell the story. Be Specific.
  • Sum it up.
  • Leave them wanting more.
  • Leave them wanting to meet YOU!
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

How to be a better writer?

  • Be a better reader!
    • Read well. Read good prose by good writers, and read carefully, looking not only for information, but for logic, structure, interesting turns of phrase, and anything else that makes the writing work. Read a variety of things, including British, American, and even Australian authors; read The New Yorker and Harper's; read the NY Times editorial page and compare the styles of the better columnists. Read literature, philosophy, and poetry; read good scientific writers and non-fiction writers; read The NY Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement; read the NY Times Magazine’s “Lives” essays. Enjoy reading good writing, even in popular genres, but balance it with enough challenging material.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

General Writing Tips

  • Avoid clichéd topics
    • Adventure travel
    • Community Service
      • how I helped “save” the world
      • how the project made me feel lucky
    • Dead relatives/pets
    • How we/I won the game.
    • Comparing a sport to the “game of life”
    • My favorite coach
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

General Writing Tips

  • Eliminate unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.
  • Use sharp descriptions and spare dialog.
  • Be personal, not impersonal.
  • Put away the thesaurus.
  • Don't attempt to tackle a topic that can't possibly be covered in 500 words.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

General Writing Tips

  • Show, don’t tell.
    • Be as specific as you can when recounting events.
    • Give the reader that "you are there" feeling.
    • Be vivid.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

How to finish the Essay

  • Draft
  • Edit
  • Let it cool.
  • Feedback time.
  • Edit down.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread!
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

Essay Checklist

  • Is the essay interesting?
  • Will it stand out because it shows who I really am?
  • Is it about something important to me?
  • Do I show how I think?
  • Do I illustrate the issue, story or experience?
  • Is my presentation neat, logical, and clearly stated?
  • Are there good transitions between separate ideas?
  • Did I make a conclusion rather than ending with a summary?
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

Sample Essay Topics

  • Common Application Topics:
    • Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
    • Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
    • Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
    • Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
    • A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
    • Topic of your choice.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

Sample Essay Topics

  • NYU Supplemental Application:
    • If you were a member of the committee that was reviewing your application what is the single most important aspect of the application that you would emphasize in order to convince the rest of the committee to offer this candidate admission?
    • Please tell us about something you did last Sunday afternoon (or the Sunday before that or the Sunday before that).
    • Many students apply to NYU because of its NYC location. Other than location, please tell us why you feel that NYU is a good match for you.
    • Please tell us what led you to select your anticipated academic program and what interest you most about the discipline.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program

Sample Essay Topics

  • Princeton University “Short Questions”
    • Your favorite book.
    • Your favorite recording.
    • Your favorite website.
    • Your favorite source for inspiration.
    • Two adjectives that your friends would use to describe you.
    • Favorite word.
    • Favorite keepsake or memento.
    • Favorite movie.
    • Using one of the quotes below (or your favorite quotation) as a jumping off point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values.
  • Bronx HS of Science Alumni Mentor Program


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