If you've recently started working on your college essays, you understand how challenging the process can be. Writing about yourself doesn't always come naturally, and sometimes it isn't clear whether your topic is particularly compelling. If you're looking for best practices, check out the essay-writing tips that these admission officers shared with College Confidential.
"Beginning your college essay can feel like taking an overwhelming leap, so our best advice is to start planning early and build up to actually writing it," says Anne Brewer, associate director of Admissions with Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. "Brainstorm your essay topics and outline a draft during your junior year. Admissions counselors have a sixth sense for essays that were written overnight, and a longer planning process will allow you to cover all the detail, thought and creativity that colleges look for."
"Depending on the institution, admission officials may read hundreds of essays during a recruitment cycle," says Jason C. McNair-Faulk, dean of admissions with Longwood University in Farmville, Va. "Use this opportunity to showcase what makes you unique through your own thoughts and words. It's your chance to truly share who you are instead of who you assume we want to be."
Practice Self-Reflection Before Writing
"Admissions officers will seldom remember essays that are perfectly formatted, but we will jump out of our chairs to share a story that captivates us from beginning to end," says Cezar Mesquita, director of admissions with Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. He encourages students to reflect before writing.
"What I tell students is: Don't start from the end; allow yourself the opportunity to explore aspects of yourself, your upbringing, your role models, your experiences, that you believe could make an admissions officer want to share it with their colleagues," Mesquita advises. He advises students to ask open-ended questions that can generate opportunities for sharing and listening, such as the following:
- How have you seen me excel during the years? Where have I struggled?
- When you think about my family, what role do you see me playing? How about in my school community?
- When I come up against a challenge or new situation, how have you noticed me respond to it?
- What advice would you give me as I transition to college? What areas will you see me thrive in? Which areas should I work on?
The idea, he says, is to "ask and listen respectfully, share openly and vulnerably. To start from a place of true listening will more often lead to great results. Listen and write with an open heart — the words are sure to follow and flow."
Reveal Who You Really Are
"Writing a college essay should be similar to producing a movie about your life," says T.J. Snowden, EdD, director of admissions and recruitment at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. "You want the college representative to understand what makes you unique. College admissions representatives read thousands of college applications during the recruitment cycle and your essay should inspire them to believe that your addition to the class would have an impact on the overall landscape of the college."
"Use your authentic voice and tone to tell your story," says Stephanie Espina, director of undergraduate admissions with Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y. "Oftentimes students feel they need to write in a superficial tone and place too much emphasis on what they think admissions reviewers 'want to hear.' The truth is we want to hear you, in your own voice and we want to experience a few minutes of your world while reading your personal essay."
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