Your College Essay aka “Personal Statement”

Tortoise pushing ballYes, your college application essay is your “personal statement”. It is an opportunity to express your viewpoints, to be creative, to demonstrate your writing ability, and to distinguish your application from the many others that the Admission Officer will read.

Your essay can provide the Admission Officer with insight into at least three of your personal qualities:
1) How well you think
2) How well you write, and
3) Who you are

Famous Pulitzer Prize winner sportswriter, Red Smith, once said: “Writing is easy. Just sit and look at a blank sheet of paper until blood starts dripping from your forehead.” 🙂 Yes, even writers who are paid handsomely, have a tough to time to place words on paper in the beginning. So, do not be fearful or intimidated by the task. Your college essay is an important part of your application. An outstanding essay can have a positive influence on the decision. Likewise, a poorly-written, hastily done or sloppy essay can have a negative influence on the admission decision. It is worth your time to produce your best work.

Without a doubt, high school students fear writing the personal essay more than anything else, especially those who are not “writers.” It doesn’t have to be that way, if you follow some proven techniques for organizing your thoughts, writing, editing and typing.

Want tips on how to start your essay? Watch this Webinar. Even though you may not be applying to a University of California school, the tips on writing a “personal statement” will be helpful.

Quite possibly the most important thing to keep in mind is that you should be expressing yourself – who you are and what you believe in. Your goal is to make the admissions staff notice you…and to show them what you’re all about…and why they should accept you.

There are no right and wrong ways to write essays – only what is right for you.  Since you may have different essays to write for different colleges, the first part of this section are specific hints, do’s, don’t, tips, suggestions and techniques.

                       Just How Important Is the Essay? . . . VERY!

Sometimes, in the hoopla about SAT and ACT test scores, class rank, AP courses and GPA, the weight of the personal statement/essay is overlooked. Most admissions counselors will tell you that the essay ranks right up there as an important piece of the puzzle, and can often be the final deciding factor between candidates who are otherwise equally qualified.

To show you the relative importance of the essay, here are a couple of paraphrased comments about the essay made by guidance counselors and college admissions:

*The better the college or university, the greater the importance of the essay, and the more it contributes to the final determination.

* At a very large university receiving over 15,000 applications per year, every
essay is read.

* College admissions staffs use the essay to get to know the student more
personally to go beyond what the numbers show.

* Many admissions staff views the application as a “flat” document, but they
view the essay as a third dimension, to bring life to the application.

                         Just What Are They Looking For?
On a very broad plane, the admissions staff is looking for these characteristics in your essay – regardless of the topic – they want to see your ability to: 

* Communicate thoughts in a coherent manner
* Use the English language correctly
* Produce a clear, grammatically correct paper
* Think and write about a particular topic
* Illustrate your depth of insight into a subject
* Think about yourself and your feelings
* Convey those feelings about the chosen topic
* Be creative, innovative and original

In analyzing admissions officers’ favorite essays, that is, those which made the greatest impact, we see several trends:

* Essays which discussed fears, concerns or uncertainty about doing something (i.e. singing a song on stage, volunteering in a hospital, discussing sex with parents) which showed how the student handled the situation.

* Essays which struck a chord in the admissions officer, enabling him/her to be an advocate for that candidate; it wasn’t a case of the student and admissions officer both being skiing enthusiasts, but perhaps how the student reacted to his/her first run down the slope.

* Admissions staffs have read thousands of essays, and recognize fluff, boasting and a lack of preparation miles away. They react negatively, in general, to cute approaches and other means used to cover up an essay which took no thought.

 In short, they want a good first impression about you, so they can get a handle on the kind of person you are. They want to know who you are, without fanfare.

 For example, here is a college essay written by 17 year old Hugh Gallagher who, in 1989, was accepted to NYU; in no small part due to his 450 word essay. It was so popular in the admissions office there that it went viral around the country. CAUTION! Do not read this if you do not have a sense of humor or believe in being politically correct 100% of the time. By the way, Mr. Gallagher is now a professional writer. Watch this. 

 Remember, a good essay is a personal statement that reveals something about the character and personality of the applicant. There is no doubt that this one does. If you have any questions or want help with your essays, call Eric Goodhart @ (978) 820-1295

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