The College Application Essay



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The College Application Essay

  • Charting the Course the College
  • Allegheny College
  • July 15, 2011

The Purpose of the Essay

  • To reveal something about yourself that's not in the rest of the application – what's important to you and why?
  • To demonstrate your skill as a writer – are you capable of college-level writing?
  • The importance of the essay

Before

  • Read some Newsweek "My Turn" essays.
    • http://feeds.newsweek.com/Newsweek/MyTurn
  • Read some NPR "This I Believe" essays.
    • http://www.npr.org/thisibelieve/about.html
  • Read some Teen Ink College Essays
    • http://www.teenink.com/College/Essays1.html
  • Make a list of several possible topics and anecdotes
  • Remember: this is a reflective piece. You did X; so what? How did it affect you?

Who is your audience?

  • An admissions committee consists of several real people.
  • They are different from each other and may disagree – there's no simple answer to the question, "Will they like this essay?"
  • Clear thinking, good writing, originality, and personal reflection appeal to all.

Topics to avoid

  • What you think they want to hear
    • Flattery
    • Informing the college about itself
  • The I, me, my essay
  • Sports as a metaphor for life
  • "My great coach"
  • Death, Divorce, Disaster
  • "How my school failed me"
  • The "gee whiz" essay (how working with those less fortunate made me realize how fortunate I am)

Topics to avoid, cont.

  • My Trip to My Ancestral Homeland (how I felt 'at home' for the first time in . . .)
  • My Favorite Things (a list of stuff that tells you I'm nice)
  • Miss America (how I will work for world peace)
  • Tales of My Success (how I overcame adversity to win the day)
  • Selling and Telling – The Autobiography (I was born at a young age . . .)

During

  • Follow the college's instructions to the letter
    • Length
    • Format
  • Count on doing at least three drafts
  • Three strong statements (beginning middle and end)
  • Show, don't tell

More Basic "Do's"

  • Tell a story only you can tell.
  • Slice of life, moment in time
  • Plenty of detail
  • Metaphors welcome!
  • Spare the adjective

Opening Gambits

  • Anecdote (in medias res)
  • “Every Sunday I wake up to a 1940’s Prell Shampoo jingle sung in falsetto by a short, wiry, balding intellectual. My dad is a nut.”

Why? (raises question in reader's mind)

  • “I try to live reasonably in the modern world, but it gets harder and harder.”
  • “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.”

Shocker (takes the reader aback)

  • “I do some of my best thinking in the bathroom.”
  • But be careful with this one! It’s a loaded weapon, and should be handled accordingly.

Curmudgeon (refutes conventional wisdom)

  • “Moby Dick may be a great book, but it is not a good book.”
  • “I have no sympathy with international aggression when it is taken seriously, but I have a certain dark and wild sympathy with it when it is quite absurd.”
  • “No man ever quite believes in any other man.”

The Split

  • “There are those who have faith in man-made things and those who do not.”
  • “There are two kinds of people in the world – those who have a horror of a vacuum and those with a horror of the things that fill it.”
  • “The human species, according to the best theory I can form of it, is composed of two distinct races, the men who borrow, and the men who lend.”

Confession (the reader as your confidant)

  • “In my mind I am seventeen, although in actual fact – in man-made years – I am older.”

State the Obvious (that was hidden until…)

  • “San Francisco is a long way from New York.”

OPENING STATMENTS

  • OPENING STATMENTS
  • "I was ten years old when I met Batman. I never knew his real name. I always thought he looked like Busta Rhymes."
  • "It was December. I could not decide. 'Should I go home? Or am I already home?'"
  • MID-ESSAY TRANSITIONAL 'GRABBERS'
  • "With this newfound love of tea came a sobering realization – I had become the tea snob I had despised in the first place."
  • "When my mother finally caught on that I was bringing home too many beauty products, she called my teachers."
  • CLOSING STATEMENTS
  • "I may never get there, I might not even want to, but I will enjoy myself along the way, and without Batman I never would have started."
  • "When I find myself feeling glum in the colder months, I drown my troubles in one warm cup of water at a time, steeping a bag of Oriental Mandarin Orchard for five minutes, or more for flavor."

TELLING

  • TELLING
  • A book or film that has had great influence on me was Grosse Point Blank.
  • SHOWING
  • To my disappointment, Liar Liar was sold out, but I had come to see a movie and was going to see one. Then there it was, in the right corner of the marquee, a film I had never heard of, Grosse Point Blank. I wish that I could look back at this moment and see destiny pulling at my seven dollars and fifty cents.

After

  • Questions to ask yourself and another reader after each draft:
    • What is the essay about?
    • What does it add to the application? (i.e., how is it an argument for admitting me?)
    • What is the strongest section?
    • What is the weakest section?
    • What was left out – what questions will a reader have?

Trim the fat

  • proceeded to, began to, decided to
  • every adjective you wouldn't fight for
  • unnecessary restatement
  • SAT words (plethora and myriad)

When you think you're finished…

  • Put the piece away for three days.
  • When you read it again, ask, is this your voice? (vocabulary!)
  • Proofread!
  • Make sure a counselor/English teacher/trusted adult reads the essay before you send it.

I have lived the past eight years in this area and I've been lucky to live near such an exciting and beautiful campus. The Y program at College X is on the rise and has an excellent reputation with some of the best teachers in the world as members of the teaching board. I've attended several excellent plays and athletic events and I even did a pre-college program at College X last summer. Although I took two history courses, I was still able to get a good grasp of the teaching styles and freedom that the social sciences college would provide me. I hope to use…I look forward to majoring in Y at College X and I hope to be…

  • I have lived the past eight years in this area and I've been lucky to live near such an exciting and beautiful campus. The Y program at College X is on the rise and has an excellent reputation with some of the best teachers in the world as members of the teaching board. I've attended several excellent plays and athletic events and I even did a pre-college program at College X last summer. Although I took two history courses, I was still able to get a good grasp of the teaching styles and freedom that the social sciences college would provide me. I hope to use…I look forward to majoring in Y at College X and I hope to be…


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