Foundation

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Your Essay Tells Your Story

By: Kathryn Miller
Colleges want to get to know you as a person, in addition to your grades, test scores and activities.  Essay writing, along with the entire college search process, is a time for self-discovery and reflection. It isn’t always easy to think about yourself in this way, but it can help you define what you are looking for in a school and what you will bring to a college community.  Your essay is your opportunity to tell YOUR STORY.  It lets them understand who you are, what you care about, and what is truly unique about YOU. 
  1. Write about what you know.  Your topic may not be unique, but your approach and understanding of it is all your own.
  2. Write about what you love.   What motivates you?  You are not just your resume.  You have chosen to participate in activities or to learn new things for a reason.
  3. Show and Tell.  Remember this favorite grade school activity?  It’s not enough to tell us, “I love to travel!”  Show us how a particular trip or situation challenged or changed you.
  4. Begin with the end in mind.  Steven Covey coined this phrase in his popular book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  Why are you telling this story?  When someone reads your essay, what will they have learned about you?
  5. Get their attention.  Admissions people read hundreds, even thousands, of essays every year.  They may be reading yours late at night after a long day of traveling.  Grab the reader’s attention right away so that they want to know more about you.
  6. Be honest.  You may feel vulnerable by disclosing a characteristic or situation that was uncomfortable or you may want to embellish the truth.    You need to be admitted to a college for who you are, so don’t be tempted to change that.
  7. Answer the question.  The Common Application’s Personal Essay gives you six choices, including “topic of your choice” to write about.  The Short Answer gives you the opportunity to elaborate on your activities or work.  The individual college supplements may challenge you with different questions, so read them thoughtfully before you write.
  8. Read your essay out loud.  Your essay should demonstrate your Own Voice.  Does it really sound like you and who you really are?  If you are funny, does that come across?  If you aren’t funny, are you trying too hard?
  9. Write.  Read.  Edit.  Repeat.  If you are reading this, you are starting your essay in plenty of time to find the best topic and write about it in a way that really stands out.  Don’t rush the process.  It will take time, but you will be happier with the results!
  10.  Get help when you need it.  Early in the process, you may want to ask your family and friends for stories about you or observations they may have.  After you have worked on writing what you know is a good essay, ask your parent or teacher to read it for feedback only if you are willing to accept constructive criticism.
  11. And, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to…. Keep word or character limits under control (more is not better); spell check; grammar check; quote check; fact check; college name check; oh, and don’t use too many semi-colons!
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