According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, application essays are the most important “soft” factors, or non-quantitative elements, that colleges consider when making admission decisions, right behind “hard” factors, or quantitative components, like grades, curriculum, and test scores. Essays are often more important than recommendations, extracurricular activities, and other qualitative application elements. While it’s important to put considerable effort into all college application components, essays are often the finishing touch and should be treated with great care and consideration.
The baby sitter, the house keeper, the driver, it's taken my dad 10+ years of night shifts to attain financial stability, and become an asset to his workplace. He's been one of the millions of people who has been laid off in the last couple of decades and has had to start over multiple times. But each time he's re-built himself with more resilience. I've grown up living in section 8 housing because my parents often found themselves living paycheck to paycheck, not by choice, but by circumstance. They've endured bankruptcy over credit card debt, have never owned a home, or been given access to resources that allow them to save. Every time we've readapted, we get struck by a new change. I currently live in Manchester Square, a ghost town, byproduct of the Los Angeles Airport expansion project. The 16 steps I have always known, soon to be demolished. My neighbors are empty lots, enclosed by fences. Homeless people’s pitch tents, under the roar of airplanes. My home is soon to become an accommodation to an airport, soon to be nonexistent. Knowing that my family has to relocate as I'm applying to college makes me feel a tad guilty, because of my lack of resources, I fear it will become a barrier into my transition to college. My parents finances are not a secret, I know their struggles as I hear about them day after day. My parents now deal with the burden of relocating, no longer having subsidized housing and again, struck by yet another need to readjust and reassemble. Relocating a family of 5 in an area plagued by gentrification of stadiums and demolition is no simple task as rent prices are as high as mortgages. It's odd they don't want me to stress or have it become my problem but I know it is, and I want to do whatever I can to help.
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The application essay is not a résumé, nor is it an epic. And by “not an epic,” I mean both “not fiction” and “not a grand adventure story about an extraordinary protagonist.” Some students might feel pressured to invent tragic past experiences or monumental achievements to heighten the emotional appeal of their essays, but admission officers can detect bovine feces. They also don’t expect you to have survived trauma or carried out heroic feats by your senior year in high school. So always represent yourself in the best way possible, but make sure you keep that depiction truthful.
All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.
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“That man in the plaid shirt is stealing the eggs from their mothers again,” the chicken thinks the next day as he unlocks the cage. Then the man reaches into the wooden coop, his back to the entrance. “Now!” At its own cue, the chicken scurries towards the opening and exits unseen. With a backwards glance at his friends, the chicken feels a profound sadness and pity for their ignorance. It wants to urge them to open their eyes, to see what they are sacrificing for materialistic pleasures, but he knows they will not surrender the false reality. Alone, the chicken dashes away.
When talking about college essays, we tend to focus on the Common Application prompts, and it's true that many students will need to write a Common App essay. However, there are actually quite a few schools, including both public and private universities, that don't use the Common App and instead ask applicants to respond to their own college essay prompts.
Here, again, the Common Application gives you a lot of options for approaching the question. With the ability to write about an "intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma," you can essentially write about any issue that you find important. Note that you do not have to have solved the problem, and some of the best essays will explore problems that need to be solved in the future. Be careful with that opening word "describe"—you'll want to spend much more time analyzing the problem than describing it. This essay prompt, like all of the options, is asking you to be introspective and share with the admissions folks what it is that you value.
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That’s why it’s a good practice to keep a reliable collection system with you at all times as you’re preparing to write your essay. It could be your phone. It could be index cards. It could be a Moleskine notebook (if you really want to do it with panache). Just don’t store it in your own brain thinking that you’ll remember it later. Your mind may be a magnificently wonderful idea-making machine, but it’s a lousy filing cabinet. Store those ideas in one place outside your brain so that when inspiration hits you in the bathroom, in the car, on a hike—wherever—you’ll have a place to capture it and come back to it later when you need it.
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Finally, avoid clichés like adages, sayings, and quotes that do not bring value to your essay. Examples include phrases like “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (it’s also important to know that sayings like these are often seriously misquoted—Gandhi did not actually utter these words) and lavish claims like “it was the greatest experience of my life.”
This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.
As an alternative, this prompt gives you the opportunity to address a more ambitious, hypothetical problem you would like to solve. For example, you could address the logistical and legal problems of high-speed rail in the United States, the complex environmental and economic problems of using fossil fuels, or even the ethical dilemma of creating A.I. As long as you are creative and refrain from choosing a cliché topic like “curing cancer,” addressing a hypothetical problem can result in a strong essay. Be careful to frame your hypothetical problem clearly, explain why it is a problem, outline the important points, and explain your steps to create a solution.
4. Be coherent. Obviously, you don't want to babble, but I mean write about just one subject at a time. Don't try to cover everything in an essay. Doing so can make you sound busy, but at the same time, scattered and superficial. The whole application is a series of snapshots of what you do. It is inevitably incomplete. The colleges expect this. Go along with them.
At home, the teacher role often switches within my family. I am responsible for translating documents to my parents and explaining procedures and concepts as I, myself, am learning them. I have had the responsibility of helping assist my younger sister who has a mild case of Cerebral Palsy. Due to her pre-existing condition, she is a slow learner. I have dedicated a lot of time this past year, helping her with her transition from elementary to middle school and helping her adapt to such a drastic change.
Keep in mind how open-ended this prompt truly is. The "belief or idea" you explore could be your own, someone else's, or that of a group. The best essays will be honest as they explore the difficulty of working against the status quo or a firmly held belief. The answer to the final question about the "outcome" of your challenge need not be a success story. Sometimes in retrospection, we discover that the cost of an action was perhaps too great. However you approach this prompt, your essay needs to reveal one of your core personal values. If the belief you challenged doesn't give the admissions folks a window into your personality, then you haven't succeeded with this prompt.
The affect Germinal had on me was not just limited to social awareness. I also became more aware of other literature, history, and art. I read other Zola novels which led me to discover Balzac and his wonderful books such as the sweet sad tale of Pere Goriot. I also became interested in the French Revolution in order to find out how the month of Germinal came to get its name. When I learned that the young Zola was a early champion and admirer of Monet and the Impressionists, I began to notice art for the first time.
“Unpredictability and chaos” are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like “family of seven” and “siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing,” Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.
In a sea of otherwise identical college applications, your college application essay gives you a chance to show why you deserve a coveted spot at your preferred university. Giving yourself plenty of time, focusing on the specific details of your life, and showcasing your unique personality can help you craft the perfect college application essay. A strong essay can give you the best chance to get into the school of your dreams.