You’ve taken the tests, requested the recommendations, completed the common app, and now it’s finally time to refocus on what you’ve been putting off: the essay.
While most students spend days, sometimes weeks, perfecting their personal statements, admissions officers only spend about three to five minutes actually reading them, according to Jim Rawlins, director of admissions at the University of Oregon.
High school seniors are faced with the challenge of summarizing the last 17 years into 600 words, all while showcasing their “unique” personality against thousands of other candidates.
“It’s hard to find a balance between sounding professional and smart without using all of those long words,” says Lily Klass, a senior at Milford High School in Milford, Mass. “I’m having trouble reflect myself without sounding arrogant or rude or anything like that.”
The following tips will help applicants make the leap from ‘average’ to ‘accepted’:
1. Open with an anecdote.
Since the admissions officers only spend a brief amount of time reviewing stories, it’s pivotal that you engage them from the very beginning.
“Instead of trying to come up with gimmicky, catchy first lines, start by sharing a moment,” says Janine Robinson, writing coach and founder of Essay Hell. “These mini stories naturally grab the reader … it’s the best way to really involve them in the story.”
Let the moment you choose be revealing of your personality and character. Describe how it shaped who you are today and who you will be tomorrow.
2. Put yourself in the school’s position.
At the end of the day, colleges want to accept someone who is going to graduate, be successful in the world and have the university associated with that success. In your essay, it is vital that you present yourself as someone who loves to learn, can think critically and has a passion for things—anything.
“Colleges always say to show your intellectual vitality and curiosity,” Robinson says. “They want kids who are going to hit the ground running—zoom to class and straight out into the world. They want them hungry and self-aware.
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3. Stop trying so hard.
“One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying too hard to impress,” Robinson says. “Trust that it is those every day, specific subjects that are much more interesting to read about.”
Colleges are tired of reading about that time you had a come-from-behind- win in the state championship game or the time you built houses in Ecuador, according to Robinson. Get creative!
Furthermore, you’re writing doesn’t have to sound like Shakespeare. “These essays should read like smart, interesting 17-year-olds wrote them,” says Lacy Crawford, former independent college application counselor and author of Early Decision. “A sense of perspective and self-awareness is what’s interesting.
4. Ditch the thesaurus. Swap sophistication for self-awareness
There is a designated portion of the application section designated to show off your repertoire of words. Leave it there.
On the personal essay, write how you would speak. Using “SAT words” in your personal statement sounds unnatural and distances the reader from you.
“I think most students are torn between a pathway dividing a diary entry and a press release. It’s supposed to be marketing document of the self,” Crawford says.
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5. Write about what matters to you, not what matters to them
Crawford recommends students begin by answering the question, “if you had 10 minutes to talk to them in person, what would you say?” The admissions teams are looking for authenticity and quality of thinking.
“Theoretically, I think anything could be ‘the perfect topic, as long as you demonstrate how well you think, your logic and ability to hold readers’ attention,” Crawford says.
6. Read the success stories.
“The best advice is to read essays that have worked,” Robinson says. “You’ll be surprised to see that they’re not winning Pulitzers; they are pieces of someone. You want your story to be the one she doesn’t put down.”
Once you find a topic you like, sit down and write for an hour or so. It shouldn’t take longer than that. When you write from your heart, words should come easily.
Rawlins recommends showing the essay to a family member or friend and ask if it sounds like the student. “Take a few days and come back to it. But only do that once,” Rawlins says. “Reading it over and over again will only drive you nuts.”
7. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.
While colleges tend to nod to disadvantaged students, roughing up your background won’t help your cause.
“It’s less about the topic and more about how you frame it and what you have to say about it, Robinson says. “The better essay is has the most interesting thing to say, regardless of a topic that involves a crisis or the mundane.”
The essays serve as a glimpse into how your mind works, how you view the world and provides perspective. If you have never had some earth shattering experience that rocked your world, don’t pretend you did. Your insights will be forced and disingenuous.
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8. Follow the instructions.
While the directions on the applications may sound generic, and even repetitive after applying to a variety of schools, Rawlins points out that every rhyme has a reason.
“They have to know that college put a lot of thought into the instructions we give them—so please follow them!” he says. “We’ve given a lot of thought to the words we use. We want what we ask for.”
9. Use this space to tell them what your application can’t.
Most colleges don’t have the time or bandwidth to research each individual applicant. They only know what you put in front of them. “If they don’t tell us something, we can’t connect the dots,” Rawlins says. “We’re just another person reading their material.”
Like Crawford, he recommends students imagining they are sitting next to him in his office and responding to the question, “What else do I need to know?” And their essays should reflect how they would respond.
At the end of the day, however, Rawlins wants students to know that the personal essay is just another piece of the larger puzzle. “They prescribe way too much importance to the essay,” Rawlins says. “It makes a massive difference—good or bad—to very few out there, so keep it in context.”
Paige Carlotti is a senior at Syracuse University.
admissions essay, college applications, Paige Carlotti, writing, VOICES FROM CAMPUS
How to Write Essay Describing Yourself
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Self descriptive essays or personal essays are papers that are written to describe the author. This essay is going to focus on How to Write Essay Describing Yourself. such essays can be difficult to write if not organized because of the immense knowledge the writer has on himself or herself (Baker et al., 2013). However they can also be easy and fun if prepared and properly organized. As with almost all essays, self descriptive essays are divided into introduction, a body of three paragraphs and a conclusion.
When instructed to write an essay describing yourself, so many things come to your mind and you already know what you want to write. However, you should be careful not to come out too strong or too weak. Therefore, the following tips and steps will help you describe yourself in the right way:
Preliminaries Before Writing
At this stage, brainstorming about the things to write about is important, for example family, friends, career, hobbies to mention but a few. You can also make a list of strengths and weaknesses (Baker et al., 2013). However you should avoid dwelling on the negative events. The essay should try as much as possible to maintain a balanced or positive outlook of your life. This should then be followed by subcategories under those topics; a topic like hobbies can be broken down into playing guitar, singing, cooking, swimming, surfing among others. Once these have been broken down, identify the most unique or peculiar experience that is worth talking about-something that happened that you feel you would like to share with others. This will also need to be arranged chronologically.
Starting with a hook in this first section is very important. This is a statement that will capture the attention of the reader and create a thirst or curiosity to read more. It could be a powerful quote or something people say a lot about you, or it could be something in life that is of great interest to you (Weber and M, 2009). The hook should then be followed by a thesis statement which is basically a general description of the whole essay. Watch this video summarize the idea.
Make sure to note down your weaknesses and your strengths. Also write down your major experiences, for example your best moments, your worst moments, and your most embarrassing moments. At this stage also, you might note down your role models and the people you look up to as well as your aspirations. While at it, you should also think of the words you will use to describe yourself. Try to remember the words other people use to describe you and note them down. Again, you do not have to include everything you write here, in your main essay. This is just to help you to select what to include in the main essay.
The body of the paragraphs in most cases three forms the bulk of the essay and should be given careful attention. Once you have settled on what to write about and started with a powerful hook and thesis statement, go into greater details with the paragraphs and dedicate each to an aspect of what you want to talk about (Weber and M, 2009). Being specific in this section is advisable. Do not shy off from giving detailed descriptions, as they will create a vivid picture to the reader and help create the desired connection to your essay. Stays focused on a single theme and spend a good amount of time on it. Avoid jumping between the different themes while writing as this will confuse the reader on the whole idea of the essay.
In cases where your institution has not provided a specific format to use, you can decide to use the traditional essay format which has five paragraphs; an introduction, a body with three paragraphs and a conclusion.
As much as you may want to be completely honest, some characteristics and experiences are better left unsaid. For example, if you have ever got into trouble with the law, it is not advisable to include that experience. Nevertheless, you may use bad experiences to highlight your strengths. For example, one of your parents might have abandoned you when you were younger. Instead of going on to explain how that parent made you suffer or how you feel deprived of love, you can instead explain how that experience made you stronger, mature, and more responsible. Focus on the outcome of the bad experience, instead of the experience itself.
A strong and good opening keeps the reader interested to read more. A strong opening should give the reader an idea of who you are. For example, you can open with your favorite quote or a joke. This will intrigue the reader to want to learn more about you. However, you should be careful not to come out as boastful. Display a good image of yourself without praising yourself too much or soiling your image.
In research papers, a thesis statement indicates what the research is all about in a few words. While writing about yourself, introduce the essay with a statement that best describes you. For example, you can include three values that best define you in the thesis statement.
Have three distinct paragraphs
You can choose a title for each paragraph. For example, you can have your aspirations and dreams in one paragraph, your experiences in another, and your personality traits in the last one.
In your conclusion paragraph, highlight the most important things that you want the reader to remember you for. It might be your best values or your greatest aspirations. Remember you are on a quest on how to write essay describing yourself, you want to leave a positive impression.
This should basically be a summary of the whole essay. Summarize the points you want the reader to remember about yourself and close by giving a strong take home message. A general point to remember is that a self descriptive essay should not bear a very serious tone like a scientific research paper but instead should just be casual while at the same time not given to too much joking (Bakhtin and M.M., 2010). It may also be well to maintain humility throughout the paper especially if you are a highly achieved person.
Avoid blowing your own trumpet and let the reader feel that you are a friendly and approachable character despite your many achievements in life. Give the reader a feel that you are just a human being at the end of the day. Self descriptive essays give you an opportunity to let people know who you are in your own words, therefore you need to utilize this to the maximum by opening up your heart and maintaining sincerity. Avoid dishonesty and be real, there’s nothing the readers will appreciate more than authenticity. That is how to write essay describing yourself.
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Baker, J., Brizee, A., & Angeli, E. (2013). Essay writing. Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).
Savage, A., & Mayer, P. (2006). Effective academic writing: the short essay. Oxford University Press.
Weber, M. (2009). From Max Weber: essays in sociology. Routledge.
Bakhtin, M. M. (2010). The dialogic imagination: Four essays (Vol. 1). University of texas Press.
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