Summer is in full swing, and as the fireworks of Independence Day burn down, the spark of something else is in the air. For thousands of rising high school seniors across the nation, this is the season to begin brainstorming an approach to writing their college application essays.
It is well known that a strong college essay can be a convincing factor in the college admission process, differentiating between students with similar GPA’s, test scores and even extracurricular activities. Yet, the writing of the personal statement is often accompanied by dread, panic and sheer procrastination by the very students that seek entrance to competitive universities. Rather than fear the writing section of their applications, students should envision each essay prompt as an opportunity to provide college admission representatives with insight as to who they are in a way that goes beyond the other data presented in their application.
Get Started Now!
The first step is easy. Start early, start now! This gives students sufficient time to draft and revise a personal statement numerous times, until they are comfortable that their final essay captures their personality, characteristics, moral fiber and more.
Rather than agonize over what College Admission representatives want to read about in college essays, students should determine what it is they want those representatives to know that can’t be found elsewhere in the application. Thus, students should start brainstorming with the goal of identifying, “What do I want them to know about me that they don’t already know?”
Who am I?
Students may begin by making a list of characteristics, experiences, personality traits, family background information or other aspects of who they are that make them unique. They should discuss ideas for these by asking parents, siblings, teachers or friends how others would describe them.
Keep the topic simple!
It is not necessary to try to find a topic that is traumatic, dramatic, or complicated…just an experience used to highlight the traits they want to demonstrate. They should keep it focused, personal and real.
Don’t Be Generic!
Avoid clichéd, generic, and predictable writing by using vivid and specific details. When reading each paragraph back the student should ask: “Could this be about anyone, or is there something specific here that makes it about ME?”
Start with a Hook!
Admission readers may plod through hundreds of essays each season. Keeping them engaged is essential right from the start. One way to capture attention is to tell a story. It should be real, honest and from the heart; it should end with a thesis that forms the basis for the content of the essay, setting up what it is the student wants the reader to know about that is not indicated elsewhere in the application.
End with a Zinger!
Make sure the conclusion is just as strong as the beginning. Answer the prompt, and wrap the ending back to the opening so the essay has continuity.
In Between, Don’t Re-Write A Resume!
Students should not repeat information available elsewhere in the application as part of their personal statement. Instead, a student may want to focus on one specific activity or aspect of his/her high school experience and demonstrate how the characteristics he wants the reader to know about are apparent through that experience. By using stories expressed through details students should convey some self-awareness that reflects why they are telling the story…what it demonstrates about them.
The End Goal?
The goal of the personal statement is to leave the reader feeling like he really knows the student. The essay helps “connect the dots” between the data on the rest of the application and the personality, strengths, and unique characteristics of the student.
By taking a step by step approach and determining what is important for the admission reader to know, students will soon be setting off brainstorming sparks of creative energy that have nothing to do with summer fireworks and everything to do with the satisfaction of figuring out how to write about who they are.