A College Application Essay Primer

By | January 21, 2019

For tips about writing an amazing college application essay, check out this article. It provides detailed instructions about what to do and what to not do as you write you essays for the college admissions committees.

As a former college professor, I assisted hundreds of students prepare their college application essay, or personal statement.  I would like to discuss some common errors that weaken these essays.  Being too much “in awe” of the college you are applying to is one common weakness.  Another one is “wrapping” the essay in an eye-catching but inappropriate example.

Any school that requires admissions essays is most likely a reputable institution.  You need no reiterate this in your essay.  Below is a sample sentence that I suggest eliminating:

“The many connections and resources available at your university will substantially increase my comprehension of the field, ultimately enabling me to propose and conduct my own effective research.”

In this example, the student explicitly states that a major reason why they want to attend this school is because it is a good school.  Everybody is already aware of this, so you do not want to reduce yourself to supplication.  I suggest that you instead mention how the school would benefit by accepting you.  Maybe your interests align well with faculty research and your chosen program of study.  The point is that you can acknowledge that a school is a good one without sounding so blatant.  Be creative.  Exude confidence.  Do not come off as awestruck!  Demonstrate that your presence will benefit the school and its student body.

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“Wrapping” the essay in an example is another common error.  This occurs when an example is initially provided and then revisited near the essay’s conclusion.  This strategy can be effective if the example is a good one.  Be sure to think through the example very carefully in order to appreciate it from all perspectives.  Otherwise, it might have the necessary strength to drive your point home.

Below is another example:

When Chris McCandless pursued his dream, he sacrificed his life savings and moved to the Alaskan wilderness.

This student liked the fact that McCandless risked it all to go after what he felt was right.  His actions cemented his ideological strength.  He died a painful and miserable death, however.  Although this might be somewhat admirable, it might not evoke the desired reaction from the Admissions Committee.  Rather than fortitude and respect, this example might induce readers to think of loss, misguided youth, and sadness.  A better example might be somebody like Thurgood Marshall who bided his time complying with the rules of his time in order to play a major role in ending the practice of racial segregation in higher education.  He also followed a dream, but his pursuit had a more positive outcome.

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