3: Writing the Essay, Tips for Success
Even seemingly boring topics can be made
into exceptional admissions essays with an innovative approach. In writing
the essay you must bear in mind your two goals: to persuade the admissions
officer that you are extremely worthy of admission and to make the admissions
officer aware that you are more than a GPA and a standardized score, that
you are a real-life, intriguing personality.
Answer the Question. You can
follow the next 12 steps, but if you miss the question, you will not
be admitted to any institution.
Be Original. Even seemingly
boring essay topics can sound interesting if creatively approached.
If writing about a gymnastics competition you trained for, do not start
your essay: "I worked long hours for many weeks to train for XXX
competition." Consider an opening like, "Every morning I awoke
at 5:00 to sweat, tears, and blood as I trained on the uneven bars hoping
to bring the state gymnastics trophy to my hometown."
Be Yourself. Admissions officers
want to learn about you and your writing ability. Write about something
meaningful and describe your feelings, not necessarily your actions.
If you do this, your essay will be unique. Many people travel to foreign
countries or win competitions, but your feelings during these events
are unique to you. Unless a philosophy or societal problem has interested
you intensely for years, stay away from grand themes that you have little
personal experience with.
Don't "Thesaurize" your
Composition. For some reason, students continue to think big words
make good essays. Big words are fine, but only if they are used in the
appropriate contexts with complex styles. Think Hemingway.
Use Imagery and Clear, Vivid Prose.
If you are not adept with imagery, you can write an excellent essay
without it, but it's not easy. The application essay lends itself to
imagery since the entire essay requires your experiences as supporting
details. Appeal to the five senses of the admissions officers.
Spend the Most Time on your Introduction.
Expect admissions officers to spend 1-2 minutes reading your essay.
You must use your introduction to grab their interest from the beginning.
You might even consider completely changing your introduction after
writing your body paragraphs.
Body Paragraphs Must Relate to Introduction.
Your introduction can be original, but cannot be silly. The paragraphs
that follow must relate to your introduction.
- Don't Summarize in your Introduction.
Ask yourself why a reader would want to read your entire essay
after reading your introduction. If you summarize, the admissions
officer need not read the rest of your essay.
- Create Mystery or Intrigue in
your Introduction. It is not necessary or recommended that your
first sentence give away the subject matter. Raise questions in
the minds of the admissions officers to force them to read on. Appeal
to their emotions to make them relate to your subject matter.
Use Transition. Applicants continue
to ignore transition to their own detriment. You must use transition
within paragraphs and especially between paragraphs to preserve the
logical flow of your essay. Transition is not limited to phrases like
"as a result, in addition, while . . . , since . . . , etc."
but includes repeating key words and progressing the idea. Transition
provides the intellectual architecture to argument building.
Conclusions are Crucial. The
conclusion is your last chance to persuade the reader or impress upon
them your qualifications. In the conclusion, avoid summary since the
essay is rather short to begin with; the reader should not need to be
reminded of what you wrote 300 words before. Also do not use stock phrases
like "in conclusion, in summary, to conclude, etc." You should
consider the following conclusions:
Do Something Else. Spend a week
or so away from your draft to decide if you still consider your topic
and approach worthwhile.
- Expand upon the broader implications
of your discussion.
- Consider linking your conclusion
to your introduction to establish a sense of balance by reiterating
- Redefine a term used previously
in your body paragraphs.
- End with a famous quote that is
relevant to your argument. Do not try to do this, as this
approach is overdone. This should come naturally.
- Frame your discussion within a
larger context or show that your topic has widespread appeal.
- Remember, your essay need not be
so tidy that you can answer why your little sister died or why people
starve in Africa; you are not writing a "sit-com," but
should forge some attempt at closure.
Give your Draft to Others. Ask
editors to read with these questions in mind:
Revise, Revise, Revise. You
only are allowed so many words; use them wisely. If H.D. Thoreau couldn't
write a good essay without revision, neither will you. Delete anything
in the essay that does not relate to your main argument. Do you use
transition? Are your introduction and conclusions more than summaries?
Did you find every single grammatical error?
- What is the essay about?
- Have I used active voice verbs
- Is my sentence structure varied
or do I use all long or all short sentences?
- Do you detect any cliches?
- Do I use transition appropriately?
- Do I use imagery often and does
this make the essay clearer and more vivid?
- What's the best part of the essay?
- What about the essay is memorable?
- What's the worst part of the essay?
- What parts of the essay need elaboration
or are unclear?
- What parts of the essay do not
support your main argument or are immaterial to your case?
- Is every single sentence crucial
to the essay? This MUST be the case.
- What does the essay reveal about
- Could anyone else have written
- How would you fill in the following
blank based on the essay: "I want to accept you to this college
because our college needs more ________."
- Allow for the evolution of your
main topic. Do not assume your subject must remain fixed and that
you can only tweak sentences.
- Editing takes time. Consider reordering
your supporting details, delete irrelevant sections, and make clear
the broader implications of your experiences. Allow your more important
arguments to come to the foreground. Take points that might only
be implicit and make them explicit.