The purpose of the essay is to convince admission officers whom you’ve never met, in less than ten minutes, that you would be a good match for their colleges. At the most basic level, it allows admission officers to evaluate your communication and writing skills. In addition, the essay allows admission officers to discover more about you as a person — a side of you not shown by your grade point average and your transcripts. The essay gives information about your history, attitudes, interests and creativity; it gives a sense of your values and goals. What admission officers are doing is creating a community, looking to see how you would fit in that community, what would you bring to that community and what sets you apart.
How the Essay is Evaluated
- Is your writing mechanically sound? Is your writing style comfortable? Can you write a good sentence? Can you write a good paragraph? Do you address the question asked?
- Can you form a thesis? Can you discuss a theme? Is your argument logical? Can you get in and out of the essay with some finesse?
- Do you write with style, nuance and creativity? Do you write with a distinctive voice?
How to Choose a Topic
Choose the essay topic that appeals to you most. The topic is less important than your delivery. Remember: there is no right or wrong answer. The college just wants to know who you are and how your mind works.
There are bad essays, not bad topics, but be careful about the following:
- Winning or losing the big game.
- Anything that suggests that you don’t see the world beyond college.
- Simple solutions to world problems.
- Cynicism almost never plays well.
- Don’t try to “prove” your intelligence by choosing a topic you think makes you sound smart.
- Remember, be sure to answer the question!
The First Draft
- Narrow your topic and try to be as specific as possible.
- Brainstorm! Scribble down everything you can think of about your chosen topic. Pick out the good stuff and work it into a brief outline.
- Write a rough draft. Read it. Read it again - out loud.
- Ask yourself: Have I focused on the topic? Have I answered the question? Is it specific and detailed? Have I written in my own voice?
- Don’t be afraid to use your imagination. Don’t be afraid to be unconventional. But, don’t be weird just for the sake of being weird.
- Avoid sophisticated words when simpler ones will suffice.
Polishing the Essay
- Start early.
- Consider eliminating the first sentence (or two). That allows the essay to “start fast.” A good opening sentence will hook the reader. If you’re bored, the reader will be bored.
- Also, add details to make it richer and more interesting.
- Be revealing. Let us know things about you, but don’t be confessional.
- Be careful with sentimentality. Use it sparingly.
- Beware of trying to impress the college with what you think they want to hear. Instead, be authentic.
- Be concise. Ask yourself: Have I avoided repetitiveness? Did I make my points directly and without a lot of unnecessary padding?”
- Show; don’t tell. Don’t just list what you have done – detail it with action words. Make your writing come alive to the reader. Use quotations wisely – to move the story along or prove a point.
- Ask a teacher, parent or friend to read your second draft. Ask them: “Is it interesting from the start? Does it sound like me? Was it fun to read?” Listen to what they have to say, but don’t let someone else rewrite the essay for you.
- Read what the application says about essay length, but don’t just write to fill space.
The little details aren’t the most important part of the essay, but you are trying to make a good impression. You don’t want the admission committee to think you’re a sloppy, careless writer.
- Always proofread before producing the final draft. If you are sick and tired of the essay, let someone else proof it. Check for spelling errors. Spellcheck won’t catch everything!
- Check your word choice by reading out loud. What looks good on paper may sound awkward or, in fact, say nothing.
- Make sure that if you are including the name of the college in the essay, it’s the correct school. Wesleyan doesn’t want to know you’ve always wanted to go to Smith.
- Taking risks is okay, but be sure you know your subject matter and feel comfortable with that style of writing. For instance, poetry is often risky.
- Think twice about injecting humor. It often doesn’t translate in writing.
- Remember: A college essay is not a research paper. In fact, most often students are asked to evaluate a significant experience or achievement that has special meaning. That’s a very personal question.
The Biggest Mistake of All
Don’t plagiarize! Admission officers have read all the books and seen all the websites. They’ll know.
The Good News
We’re here to help. Visit us and make an appointment with a transfer advisor to discuss your essay. Lastly, don’t stress too much — write what you feel, do it well, and they will like you!