With the common application personal statement and individual colleges’ supplemental essays, students applying to 10 -12 colleges (a reasonable number) may have to write 20 essays to complete their applications. This can be an unbelievable source of stress while trying to keep up with AP Lit, soccer practice, finding a date for homecoming and of course, saving the world. The good news is that the Common Application, has released their 2015-16 Personal Statement prompts so you can get started now.
While you may be dreading writing your college application essays, finishing your “personal statement” over the summer is a really good idea. Approach this one essay right, and you can significantly improve your chances of admission to your top choice colleges. Here’s how:
1. Analyze your Context. Understand your essay as part of your whole application. The rest of your application is the context in which your essay appears. Ask yourself what you want the college to know about you that they may not otherwise learn in the application. They will learn quite a lot and infer more from your name, address, parents’ education and occupation, transcript, activity list, letters of recommendation and supplemental essays.
2. Understand your Audience. “The college” is really a euphemism for an admission committee made up of real people. The first readers of your essay are probably recent graduates of the college who are overworked and underpaid. They are not english teachers, they have to read thousands of personal statements before yours and they cannot afford to spend much more than 15 minutes reviewing your whole application file.
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3. Inform and Entertain. The personal essays that stand out show the main character, that’s you, in action. When you act, the the reader learns about you and if it is something they didn’t know before, or weren’t necessarily expecting, you are interesting. Example: If you are captain of the soccer team and write about a lesson you learned during the big game, you probably are not.
Unless….the story is entertaining. I have read some very good essays on cliche topics (like the big game or the trip to Europe), because they were entertaining and fun. You do not have to be JD Salinger, but take a cue from The Catcher in the Rye and tell a story in your own unique voice. Entertaining does not have to mean funny, its ok if you are not funny don’t try to force it, authenticity is what’s entertaining. Work toward an authentic action told in your authentic voice and those application readers will wake up and take notice.
4. Be Patient. While it seems simple, realize that authenticity can take a lot of work. You may not be as used to writing personal essays as you are more formal literary analysis papers. Do not expect your first draft to be good. Expect it to be bad and give yourself permission for it to be awful and you will take a lot of pressure off. Revising is not anathema to authenticity, it is actually required (yes, anathema is a word I use). Make sure you give yourself time to go through the writing process and find YOUR voice.
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