By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop
A college application essay is an opportunity to share something meaningful about yourself. Just how you do that could influence admissions committees more than you might know!
At Wow Writing Workshop, we speak all the time to admissions professionals at top universities across the entire country, and we know what they are looking for. One thing’s for sure: They don’t want you to write a story about something you think they want to hear. They do want to read a story you want to share with them. It’s your story. Your voice. Your words.
As Michigan State University Director of Admissions Jim Cotter puts it, the essay is value added. If an adult writes it, the admissions committee can tell.
“At a moderately selective school, it can pull a student on the cusp up,” added Cotter, a 30+-year industry veteran. “At a highly selective school, a poor statement can make the difference between being admitted or not.”
Here are a few additional tips direct from admissions offices to help you write an essay that says “wow!” and also improves your chances of getting noticed, and getting in:
Keep it simple. “I think sometimes students feel that because they haven’t found the cure for cancer they have nothing to share,” said Vanderbilt University Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions Jan Deike. “Life is truly lived in the smaller moments and that can be a powerful essay.”
Know your audience. “There’s a misconception about what we do inside the admissions office. We are trying to predict future potential,” said Johns Hopkins University Senior Associate Director for Undergraduate Admissions Calvin Wise. “The essay is a student’s opportunity to speak directly to the admissions office. We need to dig deeper, and that’s where the essay comes into play. That’s where we find out more about the student.”
Understand the prompt. “Answer the question,” said Shawn Felton, Cornell University Director of Undergraduate Admissions. “Since so many students don’t do that, you could actually stand out by doing that very basic thing.”
Focus on one moment. “Students do not need to compile an entire season into an essay,” according to Lorenzo Gamboa, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Santa Clara University. “Just give us one place, one time, one moment, and that will do it for you. The key is to show genuine passion, commitment and that they have what it takes to survive at the school.”
Keep it positive. “What message are you sending to colleges if you write about how much you dislike your father? said Brent Benner, Director of Enrollment Management, University of Tampa. “If this story demonstrates something positive about you, then use it. But be careful. Every kid has had a hardship, but life is about problem solving and conflict resolution. I want to read anything that paints a picture of moxie, drive, determination and courage; those are compelling, and tells me how someone problem-solves.”
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