Don’t brag about your achievements. Instead, look at times you’ve struggled or, even better, failed. Failure is essayistic gold. Figure out what you’ve learned. Write about that. Be honest and say the hardest things you can. And remember those exhausted admissions officers sitting around a table in the winter. Jolt them out of their sugar coma and give them something to be excited about.
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.
Plus, the easy-to-follow structure means there’s no room for confusion. Furthermore, the real-life examples used throughout the essay make her passion for science even more obvious and engaging. If you’re passionate about the topic at hand, don’t be afraid to let it shine through! It just might be the difference between an essay that worked and one that didn’t.
This prompt offers an opportunity to engage with your favorite extracurricular or academic subject, and it allows you to weave a narrative that displays personal growth in that area. An essay that displays your personality and a unique interest can be attention-grabbing, particularly if you have an unconventional passion, such as blogging about Chinese basketball or unicycling.
A few years earlier, my family of nine had been evicted from the home we had been living in for the past ten years. With nowhere else to go, we moved into our church’s back room for three months, where I shamefully tried to hide our toothbrushes and extra shoes from other church members. Right then I made a commitment to my family to contribute financially in whatever way I could. My sacrifice translated to a closer bond with my siblings and deeper conversations with my parents, helping me understand the true meaning of a unified family and the valuable part I play in that.
(Bonus: starting early will also give you time to hand a strong draft of your essay to the teachers from whom you plan to request recommendation letters. If your recommenders know what you’re saying about yourself, they can help tell the same story about you—only from a different perspective. This is crucial because your application is a chance to offer not only the facts about you but also a narrative of you—a sense of who you are, how you move through the world, and what you hope to become. That means each component of your application—your Common App personal statement, your secondary essays, your teacher recommendations, the classes you’ve taken—is a kind of episode in the story.)
“Having worked in children’s education for years, I’m enthralled by child psychology. From shaping my Kumon students’ work ethic through positive reinforcement to employing associative learning to help my church students anchor their understanding of scripture, I have become experienced in using my knowledge of psychological concepts to help children manifest their cognitive and social abilities. Based on my experience working and bonding with youth, I want to be able to integrate psychological concepts into my future work as a pediatrician to develop supportive and insightful relationships with my patients.
The Hunt Leadership Scholars Program provides full SMU tuition and fees, less the amount of resident tuition and fees at the leading public university of the student's state of residency. If eligible, a student can be awarded need-based aid in addition to the Hunt Scholarship. For students who have a profound potential for future leadership, we want to make a private education as affordable as a [...] More
The Judith A. Sanders Memorial Scholarship is awarded annually to a student from the rural community of Graves County in Western Kentucky. In order to be considered for this scholarship, an applicant must currently be attending Graves County High School or Mayfield High School as a senior. The student must also be planning to attend college to pursue a degree in a computer technology related [...] More
My older sister is the first in my family to go to college. I was always the shyer one. She's taught me through her efforts that the only limits you have are the ones you place on yourself. With my sister's example I have followed in the footsteps of never letting money become a reason why I can't or won't do something. If my sister can do it, I can do it. I see the leadership characteristic is genetic and it runs in my entire family. I witness my parents be leaders everyday as they tackle cultural obstacles in a country that wasn't the one they were born into, speaking a language that is not their own, and raising children to succeed in a system of higher education; one they never had the privilege to be part of. My family and I are one. We stack our efforts, and obstacles on top of each other to further our successes as a whole. When I think back to my family's story I'm amazed to think that my grandpa came to the US in the midst of WW2, a bracero, leaving his family to help feed millions of Americans in time of war. My grandpa, a man of the fields, paved the way so I could defy the odds with my prosperity.
In 200–400 words, you’ll be asked to describe your academic and career plans and any special interest (for example, undergraduate research, academic interests, leadership opportunities, etc.) that you are eager to pursue as an undergraduate at IU. Also, if you encountered any unusual circumstances, challenges, or obstacles in pursuit of your education, share those experiences and how you overcame them.
9. Be controversial (if you can). So many kids write bland essays that don't take a stand on anything. It is fine to write about politics, religion, something serious, as long as you are balanced and thoughtful. Don't pretend you have the final truth. And don't just get up on your soapbox and spout off on a sensitive subject; instead, give reasons and arguments for your view and consider other perspectives (if appropriate). Colleges are places for the discussion of ideas, and admissions officers look for diversity of mind.
IvyWise empowers students to live up to their highest possible potential, both academically and personally. For over 20 years, IvyWise has been dedicated to helping students find the schools that will be a good fit for them, where they will be happy and succeed. Our team has over 150 years of combined experience and we have worked with thousands of students.
Technique #2: invented terminology. The second technique is the way Bridget coins her own terms, carrying them through the whole essay. It would be easy enough to simply describe the people she imagined in childhood as helpers or assistants, and to simply say that as a child she wanted to rule the world. Instead, she invents the capitalized (and thus official-sounding) titles “Fixer-Upper” and “Emperor of the World,” making these childish conceits at once charming and iconic. What's also key is that the titles feed into the central metaphor of the essay, which keeps them from sounding like strange quirks that don’t go anywhere.
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.
Every evening at precisely 6:30 p.m., my family and I unfailingly gather in our living room in anticipation of Pat Sajak’s cheerful announcement: “It’s time to spin the wheel!” And the game is afoot, our banter punctuated by the potential of either big rewards or even bigger bankruptcies: “She has to know that word—my goodness, why is she buying a vowel?!”
Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.
Before you dive (or cannonball!) into our pool of essay advice, we’d like to leave you with one last little secret: the prompts are not actually as important as you think they are. In fact, in our instructional writing course and private advising, we encourage applicants to root around for their most meaningful stories first and consider the prompts later. This is a process we call the Backwards Brainstorm, and you can learn more about it here. For now, the main point we want you to take away is this: The prompts don’t really matter. What matters is the story you want to tell. (And that you floss at least every other day—trust us, it will pay off in the long run.) We are as sure as ever that every single one of you has a valuable story (or two or twelve!) to communicate to admissions. All it takes is ample time for reflection and a little writerly elbow grease to find it. So take a peek at what the 2018-19 application has in store for you, absorb what these prompts are really asking, and then forget about them (really!) as you explore the endless possibilities.
But the best dimension that language brought to my life is interpersonal connection. When I speak with people in their native language, I find I can connect with them on a more intimate level. I’ve connected with people in the most unlikely places, finding a Bulgarian painter to use my few Bulgarian words with in the streets of Paris, striking up a conversation in Spanish with an Indian woman who used to work at the Argentinian embassy in Mumbai, and surprising a library worker by asking her a question in her native Mandarin.
The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.
At 13, I was an ordinary teenage girl. I had my favorite movie stars, my secret crushes, and I probably ate too much chocolate. School mattered very little to me and learning even less. I worried about getting good grades in school but only to please my parents. My happy life consisted of sweet treats and even sweeter thoughts, an endless array of bite-sized banality. All that changed the summer of my 13th year, the year my older sister went away to college.
Tips to consider: This is an opportunity to describe your academic and future professional interests. You may not yet be 100% certain about what you want to do, but is there a particular field that you think you want to work in, or a certain path you want to pursue after college? How have your interests and experiences influenced your choice of majors or your plans to explore in college?
The Harry S. Chandler Memorial Scholarship is to be used by a high school graduate from Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Clark, Marion, Columbia, Umatilla, or Coos counties in Oregon. Applicants are asked to submit a 2-page essay addressing the meaning of diversity, how diversity has influenced your life so far, the role that diversity will play in achieving your educational goals and/or the [...] More
“Whenever someone hears my name for the first time, they comment “Wow, Jensina is a cool name.” She must be pretty cool. She must be from somewhere exotic. She must be musical and artsy. When I was little, these sentiments felt more like commands than assumptions. I thought I had to be the most unique child of all time, which was a daunting task, but I tried. I was the only kid in the second grade to color the sun red. During snack time, we could choose between apple juice and grape juice. I liked apple juice more, but if everyone else was choosing apple, then I had to choose grape. This was how I lived my life, and it was exhausting.
While being able to write about whatever you wish sounds great in theory, some students find—especially at the beginning of the brainstorming process—that they are debilitated by the “topic of your choice” option because it offers too much choice. If that is the case, fear not! Use some of the other prompts as starting points for your brainstorming and free writing journeys. Begin keeping a diary (now!) and jot down subjects, events, and memories as they float to the surface. Now that you have read our handy-dandy prompt guide and understand what admissions is looking for from these prompts, you could very well have a notebook filled with ideas that are ripe for expansion by the time you sit down to write.
If you’re applying to 10 colleges and wait until two weeks before applications are due, you’re going to have a lot of writing to complete in a very short amount of time. Waiting until the last minute leads to stress and rushed essays that don’t accurately convey students’ messages. Give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, draft, revise, and get feedback on your essays.
There’s more that goes into applying to college than what we’ve been able to cover here, including your grades, standardized test scores, and recommendation letters, but your essays are some of the most important materials. They form the cornerstone of the qualitative side of your application. Get these right and your entire application starts from strength. Good luck!
Perhaps the narratives I spoke of earlier, the stories I mistakenly labeled as “semantics,” carry real weight in our everyday decisions. In the case of Walker’s study, men unconsciously created an irrational narrative around an abstract rock. We all tell slightly different narratives when we independently consider notions ranging from rocks to war to existence. It is ultimately the unconscious gaps in these narratives that are responsible for many of the man-made problems this world faces. In order for the “life of the mind” to be a worthwhile endeavor, we must challenge the unconscious narratives we attach to the larger games we play—the truths we tell (or don’t tell), the lessons we learn (or haven’t really learned), the people we meet (or haven’t truly met).
The value of education is something that I have understood since a very young age. Neither of my parents had an opportunity to attend college, and faced many struggles in their personal and professional lives because of this. They made a commitment early in my life to do everything within their power to instill in me a love of learning and an understanding of the importance of hard work and dedication.
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.
I am on Oxford Academy’s Speech and Debate Team, in both the Parliamentary Debate division and the Lincoln-Douglass debate division. I write screenplays, short stories, and opinionated blogs and am a regular contributor to my school literary magazine, The Gluestick. I have accumulated over 300 community service hours that includes work at homeless shelters, libraries, and special education youth camps. I have been evaluated by the College Board and have placed within the top percentile.
The Massachusetts Youth Soccer Scholarship Program is for high school seniors who plan to attend a post-secondary educational institution. A scholarship of $1,000 will be awarded to one male and one female each year. To be eligible for this scholarship, the student-athlete must have been associated with Massachusetts Youth Soccer for at least the past two years. Each application (and supporting [...] More
As I was so young when I came to the US, I didn’t know how American society functioned, specifically elementary school. I was the only immigrant in a class of forty, barely spoke English, and had no friends because of these limitations. Every day of those first few years, I felt an almost physical divide between my peers and myself. I never experienced a sense of belonging, despite my efforts. Already a double minority as a woman and a Black person, I tried to relinquish my language and culture in favor of American language and values to better fit in the crowd. By doing this, however, I almost completely lost my cultural identity as both a Haitian and an immigrant, and also my language.
My name is Sarah, and I spent the better part of my childhood on the wrong medication. I am a survivor of a common problem in clinical psychology – misdiagnosis. From antiquated testing methods to limited education, there are many reasons why professionals provide inaccurate diagnoses. I want to help change that. Therefore, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Neuropsychology so I can open my own psychological testing facility.
The Knop Science Scholarship is a prestigious four-year, full tuition scholarship based on the next academic year's tuition figures. The Ripon College Knop Science Scholars Board convenes each year at the beginning of the second semester. The mission of the board is to identify high-achieving students who show the potential to contribute greatly to the science and mathematics departments at Ripon [...] More
Notice that I didn’t say, “write a rough draft, and submit it.” Why shouldn’t you let your essay fly? Because you need to take some time away from it to get some critical distance. For example, in the flurry of a rough draft, you might feel attached to a particular sentence or paragraph, but after stepping away—physically and mentally—from your first effort, you might come back to find that those wonderful turns of phrase don’t really fit the content or tone of the rest of the piece. You’ll be better able to catch those inconsistencies and revise them if you’ve given yourself distance from the essay. You want to make sure that your application is polished and tells a clear, convincing, coherent story about why you belong at XYZ University, so instead of dashing it off and being done with it, give yourself at least a day or two away from it so that you can come back to revise with an alert mind and fresh eyes. Only after you’ve had a chance to review your essay carefully and put the finishing touches on it should you click the submit button.
I have done much better academically in college than I ever did in high school. That’s because there is no routine to the experience. Every week, I have new projects to complete, tests to study for, and activities to try. I have been involved with the campus Crime Stoppers organization all three years of college, and I was elected president for the upcoming term. This lets me work closely with law enforcement to supplement my college education and further my career.
Many scholarships, as you may already know, require an essay. The majority of them will provide an essay subject or subjects and most will only allow a limited number of characters or words per entry. Gather all of these scholarships in one place and compare them. Make a list of the scholarship providers to whom you might safely be able to submit the same essay without hurting your chances of winning. The great thing about scholarship essays is that there is so often overlap in the required subject matter that you can "recycle" them. If you can enter a single essay multiple times, you will cut the amount of time you need to spend applying to each considerably.
Google partnered with Lime Connect to help university students with disabilities work toward their academic goals in the field of computer science. Students must have a visible or invisible disability, be enrolled as an undergraduate or graduate student at a university for the upcoming school year and plan to enroll as a full-time student at a university in the US or Canada for the upcoming [...] More
One of many students’ and parents’ biggest fears is the sheer anonymity of the process. You, the college applicant, have worked hard through high school, earning great grades, expanding your worldview through extracurriculars or jobs, and contributing to your community… and now, it can seem pretty unjust to throw yourself at the mercy of an application system that seems arbitrary, blind to your personality, or even uncaring.
At Wellesley, typically three members of the Board of Admission read your application. The Board includes faculty members, administrators, admission professionals, and current students. We’re music lovers, artists, cyclists, baseball fans, professors, guitar heroes, runners, scientists, dog lovers, poets, beaders, computer techies, and more, thus bringing many perspectives to the admission process.
The Gratiot County Community Foundation, incorporated in 1992, is a vehicle for receiving charitable gifts that will remain forever in Gratiot County. As a non-profit corporation, we are classified as a public charity under the Internal Revenue Code, making donors eligible for federal tax deductions and a State of Michigan tax credit. Gifts to the Foundation may be in cash, real estate, [...] More
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And if you ever participated in a situation in tandem with adults and found some success (i.e., by blogging, starting a tutoring organization, or participating in political campaigns), you could discuss your experiences as a young person without a college degree in professional circles. However, avoid sounding morally superior (as if you’re the only person who went against this convention, or that you’re better than your peers for doing so).
“Let only the eager, thoughtful and reverent enter here,” is inscribed on one side of Pomona’s College Gates. Dating from 1914, the gates remain a potent symbol today as we welcome every new class of students to enter them together. If you were to inscribe a fourth quality into the gates to describe students who enter Pomona today, which adjective would you choose? What quality would you want your Pomona peers to share, and why?
Students across the country are invited to enter the National Ag Day essay and video contest, sponsored by the Agriculture Council of America. This year’s theme is “Agriculture: Food for Life.” The Council’s objective is to celebrate agriculture and to help consumers better understand how farmers and the companies serving them produce abundant, healthy, nutritious, and safe food that nourishes [...] More
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Competing with Lehigh, Tufts University had quite the array of unique questions, so we had to pick favorites. Tufts is known as a Little Ivy and a “New Ivy,” so we imagine that those applying to this school, which ranks amongst the top in the nation, appreciate the chance to speak their minds via the college application essay. Learn more about Tufts University.
One part of creating the best products is bringing a diverse group of people together. To bring more gender diversity to the technology industry, we are pleased to invite applications for the inaugural Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship. The Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship recognizes outstanding undergraduate female students anywhere in the world who are studying [...] More
For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time. (300 words or less)
After graduating, I will apply for work as a dispatcher in a state organization, such as the Office of Drug Control Policy or the Department of Criminal Investigation. While my ultimate goal is to work as a forensic analyst or crime scene investigator, those positions usually only go to people within the organization. Dispatch is the most direct option for career entry, giving me the best chance to pursue my dream career.
The mantis shrimp can perceive both polarized light and multispectral images; they have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Human eyes have color receptors for three colors (red, green, and blue); the mantis shrimp has receptors for sixteen types of color, enabling them to see a spectrum far beyond the capacity of the human brain. Seriously, how cool is the mantis shrimp: mantisshrimp.uchicago.edu What might they be able to see that we cannot? What are we missing?
We love Prompt #4, which asks students to talk about a problem and how they have solved or are planning to solve it. This question is similar to Prompt #2 in that it is meant to tease out a student’s problem-solving skills and provide a glimpse into an applicant’s frame of mind when dealing with challenges. It also provides a few bonus opportunities for creative expression, leaving both the scale and the time frame for setting up a problem/solution wide open.
It’s said that boys learn to be a man from their fathers, that they learn what it means to be a man that has values and can stand up for what’s right. I, however, have found that grit can come from anywhere. When I was in middle school I was overweight and many other boys would call me names, and even after going to administration several times nothing changed and for several years I kept myself at bay because if I had done anything in return I would be no better than those guys who bullied me. I previously had this perception that somebody else would come to my rescue, that somebody else would provide the mental strength to combat the hardships that were sent my way. But as time passed I grew tired of waiting for help that was never going to come so I had to become my own hero. Since making that decision I have been liberated from the labels that previously confined me and I took back control of my own life.
Answer: Many students have the instinct to explain themselves, including any failings or perceived failings, while writing their applications. There are a number of ways you can offer the admissions committee context for something you think went ‘wrong’ in high school, whether that’s low grades, imperfect attendance, or something else. Your recommenders might have a chance to write something about it in their letters, if they were in a position to see you during or after the rough period. You can also write about something going wrong in your personal statement if it has narrative energy; that is to say—if it would make a good essay regardless of whether or not it explained away a failing, go ahead and write about it. An example might be an essay that discussed a student’s home life, say their parents’ difficult divorce during their freshman year. If the student had something introspective to say about the divorce, she might add a line or two that explains that her grades suffered during the incident, but she’d want to conclude the essay by not only showing how she righted things in the years after, but also how what she learned from the difficult period will influence her in the future.
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.
In addition to the essay included with the Common Application and as part of Villanova’s Member Section of the Common Application, Villanova requires that you submit one Villanova Essay (of 250-1000 words per the Common Application guidelines) from the three choices below. This essay is an important part of your application as it provides us with an opportunity to gain more insights into your candidacy.
The scholarship application process for essay scholarships is much the same as for other scholarship opportunities—you need to fill out the scholarship application, gather all your materials, double-check that you've met all requirements, and then submit your completed application packet before the deadline. With essay scholarships, especially, you should start this process early and leave yourself plenty of time to formulate an effective strategy and write a brilliant entry. Make sure you closely follow instructions and go through the entire writing process, from brainstorming to outlining to editing. If you really want to win essay scholarships, you can't just throw your response together in 30 minutes and send it on its way. While this strategy may have worked for you in English class, chances are $5,000 wasn't riding on whether you got an A on any of your papers. Take your time writing and revising. If you plan far enough ahead, you'll be able to get plenty of feedback from your family, friends, and teachers, as well. The more people who see your essay, the better it will be. Outside help goes beyond proofreading. If possible, ask for advice on the content of your essay, as well as the style and the flow. All of these are important factors in writing effective scholarship essays.
The Pinnacol Foundation College Scholarship Program ensures that the children of seriously injured and killed Colorado workers have the opportunity to pursue their dreams by continuing their education. Applicants must be the natural child, adopted child, stepchild or full dependent of a worker who was injured or killed in a compensable work-related accident during the course and scope of [...] More
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Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.
Also, every year we create free guides on “How to Write X School’s Essays” for the top 100 schools. In these guides, we give you tips and tricks on how to approach each prompt. As such, our prompt database below also contains a link to each school's Essay Breakdown. If a school doesn’t have an Essay Breakdown yet, sign up on the sidebar to get alerted when new posts for the schools you care about are live.
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.
The International Franchise Association Foundation individual selected will be invited to IFA's Annual Convention in February and will receive a travel stipend up to $1,500 to attend. Must be a sophomore, junior or senior enrolled in a U.S. accredited college or university with studies in business, hospitality or franchise management. For more information or to apply, please visit the scholarship [...] More
The Franchise Education and Research Foundation and the Marriott Foundation have collaborated to sponsor this scholarship award. A competitive one-time award will be presented annually. Additionally, the individual selected will be invited to the International Franchise Association's (IFA) Annual Convention and will receive a travel stipend (up to $1,500) to attend. To be eligible for this [...] More
So you’ve started putting together your college applications, and like a boss, you’ve been requesting transcripts, filling in your personal information, and asking for recommendation letters. But there’s one last requirement that you’ve been dreading. It’s the summit of your mountain, the boss fight in your video game, the spun sugar on your croquembouche.
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To enter the PARC Essay Scholarship Contest, eligible students must write an original essay of 500 words or less responding to the following question about the North and Middle Fork American River canyons located upstream of Folsom Reservoir, in the Auburn State Recreation Area: Why is the American River and its canyons important to me and what is my vision for improving the Auburn State [...] More
There is such thing as having too many readers, so we recommend asking no more than 1-3 people to weigh in: an editor/counselor/teacher/consultant should help you with the bulk of your essay, while a friend or parent can listen to you read it aloud at some point, or can read it without the ren pen lifted—meaning, they’re there to make sure you sound like you, rather than intervening and writing it for you, or writing over you. Parents who get too handsy with their kids’ essays can do their children a real disservice; it’s clear when someone who isn’t 18 was serving as the guiding force in the essay-writing process.
So many students think that they “know” what colleges want from an applicant, and this can have a big influence over their essays. Students will abuse the thesaurus and write about strange topics in an effort to impress and stand out. Instead of writing what you think the admissions office wants to read, write about what you want them to know. Again, the essay is a great space to reveal something new about you, so stand out by being yourself and showing another side of you as a person or student.
To address a question like this, you need a topic that has real stakes—that is, something that you genuinely struggled with. Even though it can seem as though you should only discuss positive experiences and feelings in your college essay (you want to impress your readers with how awesome you are!), unwavering positivity actually hurts your essay because it makes you seem fake.
Although there is no single thing we are hoping to find out about you, the essay can help you “come to life” and often becomes a way for us to understand your story. Remember, we aren’t looking for perfection. We are looking for the human being behind the roster of activities and grades. Think of the essay as an opportunity rather than an ordeal. Don't psych yourself out by thinking the essay has to do all the heavy lifting in your application. It is only one part in our holistic review that allows us to construct an interesting Oberlin community.
“I think he looks beautiful,” my oldest brother Ethan chimes in. At that moment, I wish I could have hugged Ethan. No, not because he was defending my brother-in-law (who actually isn’t gay, as my uncle was suggesting), but because Ethan was defending me. My uncle has no idea that I recognized earlier this past year that heterosexuality wasn’t meeting all of my needs for intimacy with other people and that I’ve come to define myself as queer. It all started when I took a hard look at how my upbringing in Miami had taught me that the only way that boys are supposed to connect with others is by having sex with “beautiful” girls – that intimacy with other guys or “ugly” girls isn’t as meaningful.
Using words in your essay that you don’t typically use in your daily conversations can sound awkward and forced. Words have nuance to them, and simply inserting a word from the thesaurus is a great way to destroy that nuance. Thesaurus abuse is a lazy and easily spotted trick, and seasoned admissions officers will see right through it. If you feel that you’re overusing a particular word, think of alternatives on your own without consulting a thesaurus; using words that you’re familiar with will help you avoid misusing them.