How to Survive Getting Into College
provides real help from students (and parents) who have already come through the process.
The following are excerpts from the 2006 book “How to Survive Getting Into College” which contains tips, stories, and advice on the college application process based on interviews with college students from hundreds of colleges--both public and private-- across the country.
“Essay Writing Dont's”
Don’t write what you think a committee wants to hear. The more you try to craft something for them, the more it will fall flat. You never know who will be reading your application or what they are seeking. They just want to know what makes you tick. There are very few topics a reader has not seen, so just be yourself.
Don’t write in a style that is not yours. The essay should reflect your personality. It is disappointing to see an essay written in a severe and formal style from someone who is clearly known for a sense of humor. On the flip side, an essay should not be an attempt to entertain the reader, but if you are more casual, you can be a bit relaxed (proper grammar and language). But please do not attempt humor if you are a serious person; it is simply painful to read.
Don’t have someone else write it. A committee knows when something sounds “wrong” in an essay because they read thousands of essays a year. There are also testing data and grades for English in the application, so if the writing is very different from those indicators, a reader will know something is fishy. Do not make this mistake and lose your chance of admission.
Don’t vastly exceed page limits or word limits. A well-written essay can say everything you want or need in the limits of the essay. If you cannot seem to write close to those limits, you are likely going off-topic or talking about unnecessary things. An essay should be a small, focused thing—not a broad discussion—and this should be kept to about a page or two.
Don’t play with margins and fonts to squeeze in more. What you are doing is obvious, and if you happen to be the 30th application of the day for the reader and your font is small, it is not fun.
Some extra advice from students who have been there and done that…
You should not put sob stories in your essays. A lot of people have deceased loved ones; it’s not going to make you a special individual to a college admissions officer. Don’t worry so much about writing something that is going to reflect your intelligence so much as your personality. I wrote about an improvisational comedy class I took. I had a friend who wrote an ode to his favorite pair of socks; he’s at Brown now. –Zachary Klion, Suffern, New York, Yale University
Schools get thousands of essays and it’s difficult to stand out from the pack. I opened my essay with an anecdote, one that captures my personality and my experience, and I think this caught attention. In my essay, I also stressed unique reasons why I wanted to attend the school I was applying to. I didn’t keep it general (saying something such as, “your school has a great history department’); instead, I mentioned professors’ names whom I wanted to learn from and why, and I mentioned some of the special qualities that I felt the school had. –Andrea, Toronto, Ontario, Queen’s University
Be real in your admission essay. You don’t want to read a list of achievements in essay form; neither do admissions people. Use humor; its generally goes over well. Set yourself apart from other students: Have you done something others haven’t? Are you somewhat different? Write about it! Put your heart and soul into your essay, believe what you are writing, write about something you care about. It’ll make the task much easier. –Courtney Heilman, Boston, Massachusetts
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread. And when you are sure it’s good, proofread it again. Nothing says, “I did this at the last possible moment” like an “are” instead of “our.” And your computer’s spell-checker is not going to pick that up for you. Another good thing to do is read it backwards. That helps. On my last reading I found a “their” that was supposed to be a “there”: That was close! –Miller Smathers, Findlay, Ohio
Excerpted with permission from "How to Survive Getting Into College," edited by Rachel Korn. Atlanta, Ga, Hundreds of Heads Books, 2006.