Director of admission, gordon college



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  • “THE ESSAY CAN BE A POWERFUL ‘TIPPER’ IN CLOSE CASES.” - DIRECTOR OF ADMISSION, BATES COLLEGE

Put a lot of time and effort into your introduction

  • Put a lot of time and effort into your introduction
    • One technique is to create mystery or intrigue in the first paragraph
  • Do not give away the whole story right at the beginning
  • The intro can shrink when you need to be concise
    • One vivid sentence might do:
    • "My favorite science project was a complete failure."

The key to an effective essay is to focus on the MESSAGE you wish to tell the reader

  • The key to an effective essay is to focus on the MESSAGE you wish to tell the reader
  • Don’t get so involved telling a detailed story that the important message gets buried

The college wants to learn more about you, not one of your friends or one of your relatives

  • The college wants to learn more about you, not one of your friends or one of your relatives
  • It should be your story that can come from only you
  • It should not be a story the student sitting next to you can tell, and the person next to them, and the person in the high school in the next town, or the next state…
  • Some of the best essays – the memorable and unusual ones – are very focused
  • It should not be the story of your life, but a small glimpse of it, one that is rich with meaning and alive with imagery
  • Essays about your family, your trip to France, or your extracurricular activities, can be effective as long as they are focused and specific!
    • For example:
      • A single Christmas Eve mass or Yom Kippur service
      • A meal of boiled tongue in Strasbourg
      • One day of scooping ice cream at Lime Rickeys

Develop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, and examples

  • Develop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, and examples
  • There's a big difference between simply stating a point of view and letting an idea unfold in the details:
    • Boring and Generic: "I like to be surrounded by people with a variety of backgrounds and interests."
    • Much Better: "During that night, I sang the theme song from Casablanca with a baseball coach who thinks he's Bogie, discussed Marxism with a little old lady, and heard more than I ever wanted to know about some woman's gall bladder operation."

Avoid clichéd, generic, and predictable writing by using vivid and specific details

  • Avoid clichéd, generic, and predictable writing by using vivid and specific details
    • Boring and Generic: "I want to help people. I have gotten so much out of life through the love and guidance of my family. I feel that many individuals have not been as fortunate; therefore, I would like to expand the lives of others."
    • Much Better: "My Mom and Dad stood on plenty of sidelines 'til their shoes filled with water or their fingers turned white, or somebody's golden retriever signed his name on their coats in mud. That kind of commitment is what I'd like to bring to working with fourth-graders."

 Any factual errors in the essay will reveal that you really haven't thought deeply about your choice

  •  Any factual errors in the essay will reveal that you really haven't thought deeply about your choice

Make sure that every sentence in your essay exists solely to answer the question

  • Make sure that every sentence in your essay exists solely to answer the question
  • VARY YOUR SENTENCES AND USE TRANSITIONS
  • The best essays contain a variety of sentence lengths mixed within any given paragraph

Overuse of the passive voice makes prose seem flat and uninteresting

  • Overuse of the passive voice makes prose seem flat and uninteresting
  • The active voice is shorter and more direct
    • Passive: The tray of food was dropped by the waiter.
    • Active: The waiter dropped the tray of food.

They read plenty of essays about the charms of their university, the evils of terrorism, and the personal commitment involved in being a doctor

  • They read plenty of essays about the charms of their university, the evils of terrorism, and the personal commitment involved in being a doctor
  • They’re not looking for a new way to view the world - they’re looking for a new way to view you, the applicant
  • DON’T BE CYNICAL OR CONDESCENDING

Don't repeat information that is found elsewhere in the application

  • Don't repeat information that is found elsewhere in the application
    • Your essay will end up sounding like an autobiography, resume, travelogue, or laundry list. Yawn.
  • Don’t mention your GPA or SAT / ACT scores in your essay
  • For example, DON’T say this:
    • "During my junior year, I played first singles on the tennis team, served on the student council, maintained a B+ average, traveled to France, and worked at a cheese factory."

Eliminate unnecessary words

  • Eliminate unnecessary words
  • Short sentences are more forceful because they are direct
    • Too Many Words: “Over the years it has been pointed out to me by my parents, friends, and teachers—and I have even noticed this about myself, as well—that I am not the neatest person in the world.”
    • Much Better: “I'm a slob.”

If your essay says any (or all!!) of the below, TAKE THEM OUT:

  • If your essay says any (or all!!) of the below, TAKE THEM OUT:
    • cutting edge
    • I learned my lesson
    • I always learn from my mistakes
    • I know my dreams will come true
    • I can make a difference
    • _________ is my passion
    • I no longer take my loved ones for granted
    • These lessons are useful both on and off the field (or other sporting arena)
    • I realize the value of hard work and perseverance
    • _________ was the greatest lesson of all
    • I know what it is to triumph over adversity
    • _________ opened my eyes to a whole new world

A lot of people think they can make their essays weightier by sticking a high-minded quote at the beginning

  • You have a limited number of words:
  • Make them your own!
  • A lot of people think they can make their essays weightier by sticking a high-minded quote at the beginning
  • The admissions committee doesn’t care what Benjamin Franklin said or what John Lennon sang
  • Unless you are going to use a quotation as the basis for your essay overall, it’s best to stick with your own words

For example, don’t say:

  • For example, don’t say:
    • “I chose College X because College X is committed to learning and I want to learn. Learning is important.”

Do use your own voice

  • Do use your own voice
  • Admission officers can tell Roget from a high school student
  • Big words, especially when misused, detract from the essay and makes the essay sound contrived
  • Powerful ideas are often best expressed in simple and elegant prose
  • Remember: Good writers use the best words, not the biggest words.

Write an essay, not an e-mail

  • Write an essay, not an e-mail
  • Slang terms and an excessively casual tone should be eliminated
    • No LOLs, LMAO, BTW…
    • Avoid words such as: very, a lot, cool, awesome and nice
  • Don’t write: “I can’t wait to wear a Villanova sweatshirt…” in an essay to Saint Joseph’s. Oops!

It can miss spelling errors like the ones below:

  • It can miss spelling errors like the ones below:
    • "After I graduate form high school, I plan too work for a nonprofit organization during the summer." Oops!
    • "From that day on, Daniel was my best fried." Oops! I hope Daniel wasn’t fried!

Let’s get started!

  • Let’s get started!
  • 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?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

College Board gives great tips about writing a college essay. It also offers critiques of sample essays.

  • College Board gives great tips about writing a college essay. It also offers critiques of sample essays.
    • www.collegeboard.com/student/apply/essay-skills/index.html
  • Sometimes, the best tips are given directly from the colleges themselves. For example, check out:
    • http://www.admissions.umich.edu/essay/tips/
    • http://www.virginia.edu/undergradadmission/writingtheessay.html
  • Connecticut College compiled a number of essays they believe “worked”:
    • http://www.conncoll.edu/admission/essays.htm
  • The University of Chicago is known for its provocative essay questions – take a look, it could get your creative juices flowing:
    • https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/apply/essays/

The College Application Essay by Sarah Myers McGinty

  • The College Application Essay by Sarah Myers McGinty
  • www.collegeboard.com/student/apply/essay-skills/index.html
  • http://www.mefa.org/uploadedFiles/guidanceCounselors/Essay%20Tips.pdf
  • http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/tip-sheet-essay/
  • http://www.bacallcartoons.com/



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