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.
2. Billboard/nutgraph/thesis paragraph: in the magazine world, they call the second paragraph in a piece the “billboard paragraph” because it broadcasts—loud as on a billboard—what the piece is about. Newspapers call the same thing a nutgraph, and academic papers would refer to your thesis statement. All these point to one thing: this is where you shout, HEY! THIS IS WHAT MY ESSAY IS ABOUT! This is where you meld the scene and characters of paragraph 1 with the thematic concerns you’ll address for the rest of the essay. For Ramya, it goes something like this: Dee's is where I learned to be loyal—to my team, the Patriots, from across the country—but also to my father, to my friends, and to myself. Ramya’s essay is going to focus on loyalty: a big theme, one that would sound terribly weak if she introduced it in the first line or even paragraph, but one that is surprising and interesting here because she’s juxtaposed it against a unique setting and seemingly light fare—sports at a bar. (Ramya has, at some point, assured the admissions committee that she’s not drinking in this bar!)
I became desperately devoted to my education because I saw knowledge as the key to freeing myself from the chains of ignorance. While learning about cancer in school I promised myself that I would memorize every fact and absorb every detail in textbooks and online medical journals. And as I began to consider my future, I realized that what I learned in school would allow me to silence that which had silenced my grandmother. However, I was focused not with learning itself, but with good grades and high test scores. I started to believe that academic perfection would be the only way to redeem myself in her eyes--to make up for what I had not done as a granddaughter.
(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.)
I move over to the right side of the page. At the top, I have neatly sewn on three items. The first is a page of a Cambodian Bible that was given to each of the soldiers at a military base where I taught English. Beneath it is the picture of my Guatemalan girls and me sitting on the dirt ground while we devour arroz con pollo, red sauce slobbered all over our lips. I reread the third item, a short note that a student at a rural elementary school in Korea had struggled to write in her broken English. I lightly touch the little chain with a dangling letter E included with the note. Moving to the lower portion of the page, I see the photo of the shelf with all my ceramic projects glazed in vibrant hues. With great pride, I have added a clipping of my page from the Mirror, our school newspaper, next to the ticket stubs for Wicked from my date with Dad. I make sure to include a photo of my first scrapbook page of the visit to Hearst Castle in fifth grade.
Cancer, as powerful and invincible as it may seem, is a mere fraction of a person’s life. It’s easy to forget when one’s mind and body are so weak and vulnerable. I want to be there as an oncologist to remind them to take a walk once in a while, to remember that there’s so much more to life than a disease. While I physically treat their cancer, I want to lend patients emotional support and mental strength to escape the interruption and continue living. Through my work, I can accept the shovel without burying my grandmother’s memory.
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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.
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In writing, there are few things as intimidating and insurmountable as a blank page. Templates can give you a good starting point for your college admissions essay. You can browse the Internet to find templates and sample essays to help your ideas begin to take shape. Templates can also help you get an idea of how to create a solid college admission essay format. For example, you may want to include a heading with the name and address of the person who will be receiving your letter.