Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it. Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.
OK, that is in no way a direct quotation, nor is it anything close to blank verse, but trust me: the bard would want you to avoid trying to anticipate what the admission staff want to read. So don’t try to be too clever or cutesy in your essay, and don’t try to embellish a perfectly simple story. “We’re trying to discern whether you can you put thoughts on paper in a coherent manner,” says Southwestern University’s Vice President for Strategic Recruitment and Enrollment Tom Delahunt. “The topic doesn’t have to be heavy, like death, dying, or a debilitating illness. It can be light and still give us an indication that you can write and effectively communicate.” Everyday experiences can be meaningful, and you should describe how a particular difficult conversation affected your thinking about cultural differences or how collecting antique typewriters helps you see technology in a different way. But don’t exaggerate the significance of your experience; the effect it’s had on your personal growth does not need to be elevated to the level of global impact.
Above all, my family is the most important thing in my life. The meaning of family may differ for everyone, but for me, my family is life. I almost died in the 2010 Haitian earthquake, as Jacmel was one of the worst damaged areas, had it not been for my grandmother and my mom. Later, if it was not for my uncle, my mom would not have been able to come to America to give me a better life. Without my family, I wouldn’t be here. I am forever indebted to their sacrifices, and I am so grateful that I have their eternal love and support.
After graduating from Africa University with an Honors degree in Sociology and Psychology, I am now seeking scholarship support to study in the United States at the Master’s level. My interest in democracy, elections, constitutionalism and development stems from my lasting interest in public policy issues. Accordingly, my current research interests in democracy and ethnic diversity require a deeper understanding of legal processes of constitutionalism and governance. As a Master’s student in the US, I intend to write articles on these subjects from the perspective of someone born, raised, and educated in Africa. I will bring a unique and much-needed perspective to my graduate program in the United States, and I will take the technical and theoretical knowledge from my graduate program back with me to Africa to further my career goals as a practitioner of good governance and community development.
This past summer, I had my first substantive work experience interning at the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, researching and writing about treatments and therapies. Working there was certainly not a game, but my strategy was the same: work hard, remain focused, be mindful and respectful of those around me, deal with the inevitable curveballs, and take constructive criticism to heart, all in pursuit of a meaningful goal. At first, I found it intimidating, but I quickly found my footing. I worked hard, knowing that what I took away from the experience would be measured by what I put into it. I studied my co-workers: how they conducted themselves, how they interacted with each other, and how they approached their respective jobs. I carefully reviewed redlines on my writing assignments, tried not to get discouraged, and responded to the comments to present the material more effectively. I absorbed the stories relayed by Parkinson’s patients regarding their struggles and was amazed at how empowered they felt by their participation in clinical trials. Through them, I discovered what it really means to fight to win. I have also come to understand that sometimes a game never ends but transforms, causing goals to shift that may require an adjustment in strategy.
While I know that your organization typically awards scholarships to students planning to major in disciplines directly related to conservation such as environmental studies or zoology, I feel that the public relations side of conservation is just as important as the actual work done on the ground. Whether it is reducing one’s carbon footprint, or saving the manatees, these are efforts that, in order to be successful, must involve the larger public. In fact, the relative success of the environmental movement today is largely due to a massive global public relations campaign that turned environmentalism from something scientific and obscure into something that is both fashionable and accessible to just about anyone. However, that success is being challenged more than ever before--especially here in the US, where an equally strong anti-environmental public relations campaign has taken hold. Therefore, conservationists need to start getting more creative.
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In the eighth grade, I became fascinated with Spanish and aware of its similarities with English through cognates. Baseball in Spanish, for example, is béisbol, which looks different but sounds nearly the same. This was incredible to me as it made speech and comprehension more fluid, and even today I find that cognates come to the rescue when I forget how to say something in Spanish.
Since your Common App essay will be seen by numerous colleges, you will want to paint a portrait of yourself that is accessible to a breadth of institutions and admissions officers (for example, if you are only applying to engineering programs at some schools, don’t focus your Common App on STEM at the expense of your other applications — save that for your supplemental essays).
Picture this before you plop yourself down in front of your computer to compose your college application essay: A winter-lit room is crammed with admissions professionals and harried faculty members who sit around a big table covered with files. The admissions people, often young and underpaid, buzz with enthusiasm; the professors frequently pause to take off their glasses and rub their eyes.
The Richmond Question: For 2018-19, please choose one of the following essay prompts: (1) What is an urgent global challenge or social justice topic about which you are passionate? What solutions or outcomes do you hope to see? (2) By the time you graduate from college, there will be jobs that don’t exist today. Describe one of them and how Richmond might prepare you for it. (3) You are required to spend the next year in either the past or the future. To what year would you travel and why? (650 words)
To me, personal stuff is the information you usually keep to yourself, or your closest friends and family. So it can be challenging, even painful, to dig up and share. Try anyway. When you open up about your feelings—especially in response to a low point—you are more likely to connect with your reader(s). Why? Because we've all been there. So don't overlook those moments or experiences that were awkward, uncomfortable or even embarrassing. Weirdly, including painful memories (and what you learned from them!) usually helps a personal statement meet the goals of a college application essay—you come across as humble, accessible, likable (this is HUGE!), and mature. Chances are, you also shared a mini-story that was interesting, entertaining and memorable.
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.