Why an essay? Not just to make your life miserable…..really!
Why would a college require an essay? Provides the “story” behind your life experiences – Puts your academic record and accomplishments in context Allows colleges to understand additional information about you not already covered in the application Serves as a sample of your writing so colleges can see how adept you are at communicating Gives you the chance to show colleges what a terrific candidate you are
Writing for your audience Knowing your audience: – The average college admission officer is in his or her late twenties – reads some 200 essays each season, and – wants to like you! – Understanding the context of the college is important: writing for a small college may differ from writing for a larger school – Essays for the University of Michigan are read by at least three different, paid professionals – Essays at the University of Illinois are read by one to two admission officers and a dean from the college to which you are applying You want to impart – why you are such a good match for your school(s) – how bright you are (via your written expression, or voice)
The Process: Develop your “short list of schools” - Assess the Work Organize – Write – Revise – Proofread – Print Preview
Steps in the process: an overview Determine your “short” list of schools - See exactly what these college require: if you need an essay, what kind(s) and how many Organize your work Brainstorm topics and determine your perspective Compose a long first draft – don’t get hung up on word count Review your draft with your “essay coach” Can be a teacher, a resource center professional, counselor, maybe a college counselor Rewrite and refine, consulting with your coach Have the final draft proofread For Common App essays: Do a print preview to ensure it’s all there
Determining your work: how many essays, what kind of writing is required or will be beneficial to your application? When you know where you will apply, check the application information online to determine the essay requirements – Find supplemental Common App essays on college’s website [new this year and kind of a pain…] – In many cases you can use the same essay for more than one application; this is perfectly acceptable! You may cut-and-paste the essay questions on one page to see how similar or different they are from one another – Look at the essay requirements in the context of the entire application – Begin with the easy questions to answer and move on to the more demanding ones…every question is important!!!
Choosing your topic: what do you want colleges to know about you? Brainstorming: a crucial step – Requires a great deal of introspection Take the essay questions to trusted pals or family members (or both!) Take notes on their comments Ask folks who know you well in different venues [friend, teacher, boss, co-worker] to give you 3 adjectives that best describe you—and write them down. – Reflect on what these words tell you about how others see you. If you journal, review your previous writing for ideas Now is not the time to be humble! Colleges want to know about you as an emerging adult, not as a second-grader …your topic must be current
No need to panic! You’ve done this before: It’s familiar (introduction, body, and conclusion) It’s about YOU! And…there is no wrong answer
What do you want colleges to know about you? It’s your job to determine what you want to tell colleges about yourself – you know what the questions are, now you determine/control how you respond Within the context of the questions asked, what do you wish to share? – What has become important as you have progressed in life….relationships, the environment, your family, your future hopes and dreams…… – What obstacles or challenges have you overcome? – How has your academic record been affected by your particular circumstances in life?
Beginning to write: composing a first draft Make a list of information appropriate to the question(s) – Significant events, accomplishments, goals, dreams Do an informal response first; be silly, be open, just write something to play with! – Focus on creating your voice, not on impressing an admission dean – That’s what rough drafts are for! Sometimes it’s easier to begin with the more objective writing – the “what do you want to study” response Write much longer than required initially…as you edit, you can determine what is important enough to keep – It’s always easier to edit stuff out than put stuff in…
Sitting down to that blank computer screen…. Take twenty minutes to freestyle your response to a question – do not worry about the length, just tell the story or answer the question Trust yourself – listen to your own writer’s voice. Don’t worry about a clever introduction, an amazing conclusion… Just write to answer the question!!
After your first, very rough and informal draft…. Take a night off. Giving yourself some distance will allow you to return and review your writing with fresh eyes Then, read your draft with the eye of an editor, not the author Read it aloud to see if sounds like you. If the story comes across and you’ve answered the question, continue to edit. If there’s no story there, you need to create another draft. [sigh….]
Once you have an essay topic in place and a first draft, rewrite! It’s time to sharpen your focus – What is your main point? – How does each subsequent paragraph relate to your assertion? – How do you illustrate your idea? – Does your writing ramble? – Would more or less detail be helpful? – How do your ideas flow? – Did you really answer the question?
It’s a process – give yourself time to revise your work You may have to rewrite and refine your work a few times… so remember, this is a process and you have to be satisfied with the outcome. Your essay must also be your own, true and original work….if your counselor can tell that a parent or independent counselor wrote it, chances are that the admission officer will, too. Almost all colleges scan the essay through a plagiarism website these days
How personal is personal? You determine how personal you wish to be in your writing Your comfort level is most important If you have a learning style issue, you should disclose that so colleges understand Any essay about hardship or overcoming difficulties should focus most on how you have grown in a positive way Colleges want to know you are fully recovered and ready for the personal and intellectual challenges independent living provides
The English Teacher In Us Says… Tone – informal but appropriately done Language – you are not writing to your pals… Typing – this is not an exercise in texting! No abbreviations, Proofreading – I can’t find my own typos, but I can find yours and you can find mine! Inspect for too many “I” statements….but, Does the essay indicate something about you? Over-used or risky topics…your essay coach or counselor will help with this Most importantly, is it your own work?
Common issues to avoid Getting your carefully crafted essay cut off: – The Common Application response must be between 250 and 650 words – PRINT a print preview copy to make sure everything fits before you submit! Make it memorable: college admission officers can read twenty or more essays a day You may not be done yet: the Common Application colleges typically have a supplemental essay or form See each college’s website for these supplements
Essays should Answer the question Be clearly and logically written Be personal and insightful Show an appreciation for the university’s values, as appropriate and possible Describe you as an emerging adult Be about YOU
Essays should not Be a list of activities – you’ve already entered those Be a failed attempt at humor Be more what you think the colleges want to hear, and less about what you want them to know about you Describe experiences that have had no lasting impact on you Sound like it could have been written by anyone Describe more about the significant event or person than about why you grant it – or him or her – significance! One-third of this writing should describe the experience, two-thirds should describe its significance to you.
DEAD. ON. ARRIVAL. “In college I plan to continue to live a well-rounded life, meeting and working with people from a variety of backgrounds. I expect to prepare for a profession that permits me to be closely related to children as well as adults. I want to help people. I have gotten so much out of life through the love and guidance of my family, I feel that many individuals have not been as fortunate; therefore, I would like to expand the lives of others.”
Specifically for Michigan, Illinois and other universities that admit candidates to specific programs Before you address the question about what you want to study in college: – Discuss your chances for admission to the various colleges with your counselor – If you are on the bubble, decide if you just want to get into that university, or if you will only go in a specific major – Look to see how your senior year courses compare with, your intended major
University of Illinois Essay #1 “Explain your interest in the major you selected. You may describe a related experience you’ve had to that area of study and/or your future career goals.” [300 words] Division of General Studies – “Explain your academic interests and strengths or your future career goals. You may include any majors or areas of study you are currently considering.” [300 words]
University of Illinois Essay #2 “Tell us about one interest or experience of yours that allows us to get to know you better as an individual.” [300 words] Also optional “Challenges/Academic Explanation” questions if there is a disability, family/home issue, passing of family member or friend, or other personal issue you’d like to discuss. You can also explain a low grade or a grade drop.
University of Wisconsin Madison “Consider something in your life you think goes unnoticed and write about why it’s important to you.” And “Tell us why you decided to apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, share with us the academic, extracurricular, or research opportunities you would take advantage of as a student. If applicable, provide details of any circumstances that could have had an ipmact on your academic performance and/or extracurricular involvement.” [100-500 words each]
Indiana University NEW THIS YEAR! “Use the space below to provide a brief personal statement [up to 300 words], sharing information about your background or experience that may not be readily available from the application or supporting documents. If there are any special circumstances related to your academic performance or to your reasons for your interest in Indiana University Bloomington, please share those here.”
Common App Essays [Choose One—250-650 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 an idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?”
More Common App Essays [Choose One] “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.”