is. The part of the application where you can
sing in your own voice.
Your application essay is your
Speak in the
what is important to you.
Tie it all
you've displayed the single most important factor in
determining which students do well in college,
value to your application by adding perspective to the litany
of numbers and, increasingly, a numbing set of very similar teacher
and counselor recommendations.
Use only the most motivating topic. Remember, 20 to 40 other essays that day. It has to be rivetingto you for you to be interestingto them.
This ain’t a vocabulary test. Talk like you talk to persuade adults to what you’re excited about. Fulminating, however fastidious, is fatuous and often fatal. Struggling? Use the Visual Thesaurus in our Bookstore.
Use short sentences first. Bring readers in. When they’re in, elaborate. Readers will appreciate the subtlety and complexity of your thought. After they know you.
If you set up your context with a great quote, you’re setting yourself up to fail. First, whatever the quote, you’re not the first to use it. You invite comparison to the last six applicants who did. That’s a risk you don't need. Second, this essay is about you. Why do I care what Freud thought?
Get at least one other human proofreader. Yale admissions reps tell of one applicant's essay which said, in short, she loved to tutor children, tutoring was her greatest love and that she wished more people took the time to tutor children. But then, in the final moments, she used the auto-correct feature in her word processing software to clean up the grammar in her essay. At each place she had used tutor as a verb, the software substituted the verb 'to torture'. So she applied to Yale saying earnestly how much she loved to torture children, torturing was her greatest love and that she wished more people took the time to torture children. No, we don't know if she got in.
Looking for ways to know that your essay topics and execution complement your application?
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The Formula for the Best Essay
Made You Look! There isn’t one. Like life,
success here comes in many forms.
But, also like life, what you
say has to be relevant. Your essay readers have seen four
years of grades, pored over your test scores, decoded the clichés
in your letters of recommendation and a lucky few have interview
reports. The essay gives you a chance to (a) insert some color to
the black and white case for your admission; and(b) give the reader
some new information about the context of your
life. Your essay has to deepen what the admissions
office knows about you as an individual and what besides Mandarin
or molecular motion you bring to the table.
They’re human; they
know what risks feel like. Often, they can admit a B student
who can persuade them of their passions with more confidence than
an insipid valedictorian.
So, you have
two jobs. Give your readers more insight into your motivations and
make those motivations feel compelling.
First, tell them the
formative experiences that shine a light into you as a
person. They don’t have to be happy ones. They have to
be vivid, they have to be concrete and they have to be true.
If you’re relating the facts and, most important, telling them what
it continues to mean for you, you’ve done the first job.
Second, address what
you will bring to that
campus. Not any campus, theirs. If you’ll be an
outlier there, celebrate it. Point out how your other
qualities will enrich their campus. Your readers will
read 20 to 40 essays that day. Don’t make them
guess where you fit in. They might guess you don't.