Competitive application enhancers: compelling essays and powerful recommendations

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Competitive application enhancers: compelling essays and powerful recommendations

  • How an essay that pops up the page
  • and
  • strong recommendations
  • can win you admissions
  • Mihaela Arsene
  • Fulbright Commission Romania

What to expect

  • I’ll try to emphasize:
  • - undergrad essay role: admissions and applicant perspective
  • - recipe for success
  • - essay critique
  • - grad recommendations: tips for success
  • - recommendation critique

Admissions perspective Good match: the key words that help

  • Univ. of Pittsburgh: “The University seeks to enroll a diverse student body, full of talented and interesting individuals.”
  • College of William and Mary: “We are looking for leaders, for people with unique talents and the passion to pursue them, for people willing to stand up and be heard, for people who are creative, funny, interesting, and above all, interested in the world around them.”

Good match

  • University of California:
  • “We seek students who not only have demonstrated high levels of academic achievement, but who have sought out challenges and excelled, and who bring a diversity of talents, skills, viewpoints and experiences to the University.”

Good match

  • College admissions officer:
  • “The essay may articulate a better fit for the university.” Better than what?
  • “Self-knowledge is crucial to the matching process and lies at the heart of a successful college search.”

Grades and test scores

  • Great grades and test scores:
  • don’t guarantee admission;
  • are just pre-requisites for admission.
  • Holistic evaluation = quantitative and qualitative elements

Student perspective

  • Hard to write about yourself;
  • Hard to do it powerfully within 500 words;
  • Hard to admit that a one page essay can weight more than years of work (transcript, test scores, etc.)

Recipe for success: 5 steps to a powerful essay

  • introspection
  • training: essay writing workshop organized by EducationUSA center; plus sample successful essays
  • honing writing skills
  • peer review
  • review by EducationUSA center

1. Introspection: who are you?

  • 5 words/phrases that capture your personality;
  • your most interesting feature that sets you apart from everyone else in the room;
  • your most significant accomplishment;
  • one experience that has shaped you and which you feel is fairly unique to you;
  • three features that you like about yourself;
  • specific situations that document the three qualities above;
  • a characteristic feature of the Romanian culture that you appreciate and would like to share with US students.

2. Training

  • essay writing workshop organized by EduUSA center
  • aim at a cumulative effect, not a repetitive one
  • a window on the applicant’s personality
  • a substitute for an interview
  • “the essay can make or break your application”

2. Training (cntd.)

  • Sample successful essays
  • the anatomy of a successful essay; inductive approach: participant views and adviser guidance/re-enforcement
  • powerful opening paragraph
  • specific detail, clear message
  • no earth-shattering events but interesting approach
  • strong ending
  • memorable!
  • free insights

3. Writing skills

  • Write multiple drafts;
  • Polish, polish, polish!
  • Allow enough time.

4. Peer review

  • does the essay answer the question?
  • is the intro engaging?
  • does it provide concrete experiences as supporting details?
  • any sections that aren’t clear?
  • does it reflect the writer’s personality? Etc.

5. Review by EducationUSA center

  • FEAC experience in Bucharest:
  • team of evaluators provides comprehensive feedback on students’ top essays;
  • “criticism as an act of love”;
  • a trusted free service in much demand.

Essay critique

  • 5 minutes to read the essay: can you hear the student’s voice? Does it carry the theme through? Etc.
  • as a group discuss the essay;
  • “5% of essays are terrible,
  • 90% are average (some good stuff, some bad stuff),
  • 5% are excellent”
  • where does it fit?
  • will you remember it?
  • share 3 thoughts on the essay.

Advisers’ perspective: Playing essay evaluators

  • “Life should be stereo”: what makes this essay successful?
  • “The Unicorn”: the essay that turns an average applicant into a star;
  • “Why this school?” A Hamilton love affair: applicant’s and admissions’ perspective
  • The good essays that are not good enough

Tips for successful recommendations

  • Culture-bound or universal strategies?
  • Help the referee highlight the best in the applicant
  • The good recommendation writer
  • Cultivating the referees
  • How to help busy referees meet deadlines?

“Brevity is the soul of wit”

  • The short recommendation letter that says it all!

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