College Essay Assignment Due: September 2 or 3, 2014
Your first major writing assignment this term will be the college essay. Many of you will be asked to submit writing samples and essays with your applications this year. This exercise is a good way for us to address this assignment as well as an opportunity for me to help you with your writing.
Since so many of you will apply using the Common Application (www.commonapp.org), we will use the prompts that they provide. If you already know of an essay topic that you will be required to write, you are welcome to write using that topic if approved by yours truly.
Common Application Essay Questions for 2014-2015 Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their
application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons
did you learn?
Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you
make the same decision again?
Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from
childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
This essay should be typed and no longer than one page. The directions on the Common Application say 650 words, and the best essays will most likely approach the 650 word limit. I would advise that you single space the paragraphs and double space between the paragraphs. Please also include the word count in your heading. Your essay does not need a title. Your heading should be on the top left of your paper and should look like this:
September 2, 2014
Word Count: 649
The key to writing a good essay for this assignment is to choose one specific experience, relationship, challenge, obstacle, etc. You must answer the prompt with specific details that will demonstrate both your ability to write and your maturity. Develop your essay with specific examples and specific details that will make this memorable experience, relationship, challenge, obstacle, etc. come to life. It is important that your writing reflect you – don’t be too generic – after writing your essay, read it and decide if it could have been written by any in-coming freshman. The reflection should be a valid description of you – neither Roget’s Thesaurus’ nor someone else’s. Write clearly and succinctly and concisely.
Here are some good editing tips taken from The College Application Essay published by The College Board:
Remember that good writing has a natural, easy-to-read quality. Keep the language and structure simple, direct, and clear. Don’t try to hide shoddy thinking behind elaborate language. Use the fewest and simplest words possible.
Strike a balance between a personal and a formal tone. In a choice between a long, fancy word and a short, simple one, choose the simple word. Avoid the thesaurus, be yourself, and don’t substitute a stuffy style for substance.
Remember that your audience is the admissions committee, not the English faculty’s poet-in-residence or chairman of the chemistry department. Be intelligent and knowledgeable, but above all, be yourself.
Avoid clichés and sentences that sound good but don’t mean anything. Make every sentence count.
Avoid worn-out literary sources. Forget “to thine own self be true.” Over-used quotations, old saws, and familiar maxims will sap the freshness of your performance.
Use active verbs and vigorous expressions. Instead of “Due to my parents’ coaxing, I decided to try once more” say “My parents coaxed me to try again.” Instead of “My interest in sports was encouraged by my father” say “My father encouraged my football career.”
Avoid empty words and phrases like “really,” “special,” “unique,” “interesting,” “each and every,” and “meaningful.”
Avoid vague and predictable conclusions: “I learned a lot,” “I interacted with others different from myself,” “I benefited from the love and support of my family,” “I learned to work with others.”
Proofread, proofread, proofread. The essay that began, “If there is one word that can describe me, that word is ‘profectionist,’” did not make a favorable impression on the admissions committee. An admissions reader may not disqualify you for grammatical errors, but why take the chance? Essays are read as an indication of writing skill.