By Tonya DuBois
If you were in an elevator with the admission counselor deciding your fate and you only had 60 seconds to say something about yourself what would you say? You wouldn’t waste your time talking about your GPA or your extra-curriculars, right? (Because your admission officer is already going to be able to read that on your application.) What do you wish they would know about YOU – why should they “pick you” over some other applicant? This is how you should approach your college essay.
Think about the singular college counselor who is reading hundreds, or thousands, of applications. You want to grab his or her attention. You want the reader to fundamentally like you and think you would be a valuable asset to their school. How to you do this?
Tell a story – only one story. A singular anecdote that illustrates that one trait that defines you and makes you unique.
First, brainstorm what story you want to tell. Make a list of ideas and bounce your ideas off family members or others who know you well. Which one is most unique, relative to what you think others may write about? Which one idea is the singular thing you would want that admission officer to hear in your elevator conversation? Of your list, which is the topic that they can’t read about anywhere else in your application?
Next, read samples of outstanding college essays online. This will help you understand which ones really stand out and how to build your own framework that works for you.
Once you select your topic, be sure to follow the instructions of the prompt. Do not write one generic essay and try to make it fit other prompts. Pay attention to the instructions, word count requirements, etc. Then, follow all typical writing conventions you learned in school, like building an essay with an introduction, body, and conclusion, following one theme throughout.
Keep the focus of your story very narrow. Remember that 60 seconds in the elevator? You can’t get off track and must keep to your point in a concise and interesting way.
Put on your creative writing hat. This is a creative writing piece, more than anything else. It should be a story that pulls the reader in, allows her to create a picture in her own mind of the experience. The reader should see, smell and feel the scenario you are describing. Help tap into all of their senses with descriptive words. When you read a good book, the images run like a movie in your head, correct? This short essay should do the same. The reader will be able to remember you, because they visualized your story in their head.
The last thing you’ll want to do is have some adults read your essay and give you feedback. If you are too embarrassed for you mom to read your essay, then you probably shouldn’t be submitting it in the first place.
Remember, a good essay is just expected and likely won’t sway the admission decision one way or the other. An outstanding essay could give you an edge, and a poor essay could earn you a denial of admissions. Your essay needs to be good enough to not affect you adversely. And, if it’s truly outstanding, then it could help you.
One parting thought….in some universities, admission officers are only allowed 4 minutes to review each application. How much time will they really spend reading your essay? In some cases, not a lot. Much like that brief moment in the elevator – make sure your story grabs their attention, and for all the right reasons.