When I start working with my rising seniors on their college essays in mid-summer, I encourage them to think OUTSIDE THE BOX. Sometimes my students don’t quite understand what I mean by this advice. So here are a few other tips to clarify:
Remember there are thousands of other students who look just like you on paper so how will you set yourself apart from other applicants?
This is your opportunity to share something about yourself that many don’t know about you and to share your story. What is something that is central to who you are? Maybe an experience volunteering? Maybe an experience at your first job? Be creative and most importantly, ENJOY writing about it. Allow your personality and true self to shine through your words.
Use language that is yours. Be real (and honest). Don’t try to impress the reader with big words from the thesaurus. Many students choose to share a personal experience or to tell a story of an experience. Some students feel like they need to re-share what’s already on their resume of activities to show they have had leadership experience or to demonstrate how many hours of volunteer work they have completed. Although those things are important, the essay is not necessarily the place to restate it. They already have your resume of activities within your application so this is your chance to share something that can’t be seen anywhere else.
Be specific. This is probably the hardest thing for my students to do when writing. Think about the how, why, where, who, and when? You want to draw the reader into your essay. Think about a book or article you’ve read that left you with your mouth hanging open or made a profound impact on your thinking, your way of life. You want your essay to be memorable and interesting.
The brainstorming can be the most fun. When some of my students get stumped on what to write about, I often encourage them to brainstorm with a parent or grandparent. Sometimes they remember experiences you have completely forgotten about in the frenzy of everyday life but it is these experiences that others remember that the admission counselors will also remember. For example, one of my students years ago was answering the question, “What is your favorite word and why?” His word was diarrhea. It was one of the funniest, well-written essays I’ve ever read. And guess what? He got accepted into that top tier college. It was risky but clever and memorable.
Take your time with planning your essay. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Again, be yourself.
Authentic. Genuine. Honest.