WRITING THE COLLEGE ESSAY
PURPOSE OF THE ESSAY
Your GPA, class rank, SATI and SATII scores are all important to a college admissions officer in helping to assess your academic abilities. But they are only numbers – they have no personality. What can make your application stand apart are the personal essays. The college essay will allow an admissions officer to look beyond those numbers and see you as a person. A well-written essay should convey your thoughts, attitudes, personal qualities, imagination, sense of humor and creativity. It will round out the rest of your application and help you stand out from other applicants. In the end, it is one of the only parts of your application over which you have complete control, so it is important to take the time to do your best work.
WRITING THE ESSAY
To write a college essay, use the same three-step process that you would use to write an essay for class: first prewrite, then draft, and finally, edit. Taking the time for this process will help you to identify a focus for your essay and gather details you'll need to support it. Prewriting: To start, you need to organize potential ideas for the main points of your essay. Since the purpose of the essay is to share more about you with the admissions dean, begin with YOU. Brainstorm for a few minutes, making a list of your strengths and outstanding characteristics. Focus on your strengths of personality, not your accomplishments (i.e., you are responsible, not “an Eagle Scout;” committed, not “a three-year starter for the basketball team”). Your accomplishments are important, but more appropriate for the activities section of the application. Discover your strengths by doing a little research about yourself. Ask friends, parents and teachers what they see as your strengths. Create an outline, listing several pieces of evidence from your life next to each of the strengths that you have discovered to prove your point. Look for patterns and connections in the information that you have brainstormed. Group similar ideas and events together in logical ways (i.e., was basketball more about the sport or about the friendships? Does your passion for numbers show itself in your performance in the state math competition and your summer job at the computer store?). Drafting: Getting started is often the hardest part of essay writing. Use the information that you have learned about yourself in the prewriting phase to jump-start the process. While drafting, your job is to further organize this information into a typical essay with an introduction, the body of the essay, and conclusion. The introduction gives your reader an idea of the essay’s contents and can be short when you need to be concise. Often a vivid sentence is sufficient, such as “My favorite science project was a complete failure.” The body presents the evidence that supports your main idea. Use narration and details about the incident to show rather than tell. The conclusion can be brief as well, with a few wellselected sentences that tie together the events and incidents that you’ve described and solidify the meaning they had to you.
Editing: After your draft, allow yourself time to make improvements: find and correct any errors, strengthen your focus if need be, and get feedback from another reader. Remember, this is your essay, making you your own best editor. No one can tell your story. Your words and ideas are the best way to go.
Let it cool; take a break from the work for a few days before beginning an edit. Does your main idea come across clearly? Do you prove your points with specific details? Is your essay easy to read aloud? Seek feedback from someone you like and trust (but someone likely to be honest about your writing). Ask them to tell you what they think the essay is really about. Did they get it right or do you need to do
another edit? Edit even more, making your language simple, direct and clear. This is a personal essay, not a term paper. Most colleges set...
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