The Freedom From Religion Foundation congratulates the 16 college-bound high school seniors who won this year's essay competition. FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994 and graduate students since 2010. Seniors were asked to pick from two topics: "The challenges of growing up a freethinker," or "Why Boy Scouts of America should welcome [...] More
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Another way to get critical distance from your essay is to get criticism. And I don’t mean a slash-and-burn review like you might get from an unreasonable reality-TV competition judge. I’m talking about constructive feedback from trusted friends, family, or mentors. Southwestern University Assistant Director of Admission Rebecca Rother recommends having two people review your essay. The first should be someone “who knows you super well, such as a parent, best friend, close teacher, etc. They will be able to see the essence of you in the story you’ve chosen.” The second reader should be “someone who doesn’t know you as well,” such as “a teacher you haven’t had for a few years, a friend of the family, the librarian at the local library, etc. This will be the person who makes sure that you aren’t missing key details to your story.” Often, the college-application essay is so personal that you can forget that your reader, the admission officer, is practically a stranger and may not recognize the people and places you mention in your essay, so your second reader can help you clarify those unfamiliar references.
Every year, the college application process seems to get more complex, and more intense. If you’re a student, you might be reviewing rumors and horror stories about that classmate of yours with perfect grades and a 1500 SAT score who somehow got rejected from every Ivy League school. If you’re a parent, you might be afraid of how much the college admissions system has changed and grown more competitive since you were your kids’ age, or perhaps you never had to navigate this system at all.
For many high school seniors, it can be maddeningly frustrating to choose the “right” Common App essay topic because the options are so broad. Take a look at the seven available essay prompts for the 2018-19 Common App. (These prompts are unchanged from the 2017-18 application season.) As we noted in a previous blog post, prompt number 7 actually grants students permission to write their own essay question and respond to it. How open-ended can you get?
6. Be vivid. A good essay is often compared to a story: In many cases it's an anecdote of an important moment. Provide some details to help the reader see the setting. Use the names (or invent them) for the other people in the story, including your brother, teacher, or coach. This makes it all more human and humane. It also shows the reader that you are thinking about his or her appreciation of your writing, which is something you'll surely want to do.
As Ramya’s original first draft moved on, it stumbled into a very Common Error #4: the curious case of the missing lesson. Initially, Ramya’s penultimate paragraph offered a kind of ode to Dee's instead of showing the admissions committee that she has a bigger Life Takeaway from her time spent supporting her team—a problem we could see would happen as soon as we noticed the sentiment of “Thanks Dee's’” occupying the place that should have been reserved for a billboard paragraph. Returning to the outline, or making the outline partway through, would remedy that.
Since that day in Orlando, I have spent much of my spare time learning everything there is to know about manatees. As a junior high and high school student, I attempted to read scholarly articles on manatees from scientific journals. I annoyed my friends and family with scientific facts about manatees-- such as that they are close relatives of elephants--at the dinner table. I watched documentaries, and even mapped their migration pattern on a wall map my sister gave me for my birthday.
So don’t worry about having too many ideas, or not having enough ideas, especially at the beginning of the topic selection process. Once you figure out what you’d like to say (and maybe even after you draft the crux of the essay itself), see if your concept fits one of the first six prompts. Trying to tailor your essay to a more specific prompt option may inspire an interesting spin on the story you are trying to tell—one you may not have thought of otherwise. Form influences content. If, after careful consideration, your magic essay topic does not work within the confines of Prompts 1-6, you are in luck. The glorious, all-encompassing Prompt #7 will be here to catch you.
Unlike the rest of your application, which consists largely of objective facts like grades and test scores, your application essay allows you to truly showcase what makes you unique as a student and a person. Use your own voice and your own stories to illustrate why you would be an asset to the school. Don’t fall into the trap of sanitizing your speech and your opinions for risk of offending an admissions officer. Although you do need to use proper spelling and grammar, your college essay is a perfect place for creative metaphors, witty turns of phrase and humor.
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