The College Essay
Colleges that ask students to write essays really do want to know the person behind the numbers. A good essay can present a student as an interesting and valuable person who is worth knowing, who is genuine, thoughtful, engaging, and able to handle what he or she has set out to do.
How does the essay fit into the decision making process? While a superb essay will not cancel out a poor high school record, a well-written essay can make a student with a solid high school record stand out from the other applicants.
In general, essays are evaluated on three basic criteria:
• The student's ability to use standard written English that is correctly written, punctuated, and contains correct grammar, usage and syntax.
• The content, substance and depth of insight which reflects the student's ability to think about him/her-self and to convey authentic feelings or opinions about a topic.
• Creativity and originality which shows an individual who would bring qualities such as intellect, initiative, energy and a fresh viewpoint to the college community.
It’s never too early to get started on writing a college essay. As many students now file the Common Application, as a starting point consider working with the following essay guidelines:
Instructions: The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don't feel obligated to do so. (The application won't accept a response shorter than 250 words.)
- Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
How do you begin writing? The college essay is quite different from the essays students are familiar with writing for school. Typically the school based essay begins with an opening paragraph in which you state your thesis, continues with three supporting paragraphs, and concludes with a paragraph in which you summarize your essay and offer your conclusion. The college essay is narrative in nature, and requires a great deal of self-knowledge and a willingness to risk sharing a small “slice” of who you are. A number of different organizations and individuals offer advice on how to master the college essay. The following web sites offer some sound recommendations and also provide some great examples:
• Martha C. Merrill, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Connecticut College shares what she looks for in an applicant’s essay (http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/tip-sheet-essay/ )and also shares some sample essays (http://www.conncoll.edu/admission/).
• The admissions staff at Carleton College put together a list of the top 15 Essay Tips from individuals who actually read your essays and evaluate them in the admission process (http://apps.carleton.edu/admissions/apply/essay_tips/).
• As well as advice from the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (http://www.acm.edu/uploads/cms/documents/acm-college-guide-writing-essay.pdf) .