Posted by: Staff | 03.08.2010

The College Column: The Essay

“The common application essay was probably the hardest essay I ever wrote. Essentially, the assignment is, “Portray an aspect of your life in fewer than two pages.” Now this caused two huge challenges for me. First, “what did I want to portray about myself?” And secondly, “how can I portray that in 500 words?”

To start my search for an essay topic, I looked through my two older brothers’ college essays. After that, I went online and read some of the college essays on the Beaver Reader. Reading the essays helped, and I started to realize that every essay was unique. In fact, when interviewing at Connecticut College, I asked my interviewer if she had any advice on how to write a college essay, and she said that you should make your college essay as unique as possible. She described how if you wrote about a common event like a soccer game, you should really stress all the unique details about that one game.  

With that in mind, I continued trying to find a topic to write about. Though I was very tempted to write about my community service trip to Senegal, I didn’t know how exactly I could summarize such an overwhelming and life changing experience. I also remembered that at a Tufts information session I went to last spring break the presenter gave a list of essays he hates to read through, one being the essay about how the prospective student went to a poverty filled country and became a new person from the experience. So, writing about Senegal was off the list.

Eventually, I decided to write about the departure of my faculty advisory in my sophomore year. Though I had thought of that, I was hesitant at first to write about it because it was a very difficult time of my life that I really didn’t want to relive.

The end product, which took twenty five drafts to get to, was the story of his departure and what I took away from it. A few nights ago, I read my essay and tried to see what someone who didn’t know me could take away from it. Even though you can’t tell what my personality is like or what my favorite activities are, my essay showed light on a very hard time in my life and the life lessons I took away from it. Fortunately, supplementary essays allowed me to show more of my character in my applications.

My advice for the essay: start early. I would start brainstorming by the end of the summer and try to have a set topic before October.

As tempting as it is to ask people what they wrote about, I wouldn’t say that is the best way to figure out your topic. In August, I asked twenty or so people, and very few of their topics helped me find my own topic. Talking with people who knew me the best, such as my parents, my siblings, my best friends, helped me the most. In the end, everyone finds something interesting to write about.

After writing the essay, I learned more about myself. For my topic, I had to dig through a very troubling part of my high school career, and I guess I am more comfortable with talking about that experience after writing about it.

One thing to consider, as well, is that college admission officer probably read and have read hundreds of essays, so you would want your essay to stick out from the rest. So try to use details that really make your essay unique. The essay could be a very powerful tool to really get the attention of a college.”

Tyler Starr ’10

“I first started brainstorming about my college essay right after college night, but didn’t actually get to writing any drafts until after the school year had ended. I wanted to highlight a part of myself of which I was proud, but also show off a side of myself that was not visible in other parts of my application. Though I could have easily written about academics or sports, I convinced myself that this side was already recognized, and I needed something to represent my personality and distinguish me from other applicants.

I truly began working on ideas for my college essay in the summer, about mid-July. At first, I was completely lost as to what to write about, so I talked with my parents as well as friends just out of college. I eventually came up with three ideas, one highlighting my experience in Chorus, one about an internship I held at the State House, and lastly, one about a road trip I took with my great-aunt. Oddly, though the last one was at first my least favorite idea, it turned into my final college essay, and I ended up loving it.

I wrote three different college essays, all very rough drafts. I wrote basically what came to my head, and did not delete any of my ideas. After writing all three of these essays, I choose which essay I really felt the most connected to, which was the one about my road trip when I was younger. But choosing this essay was not the end by far, as at least ten major rewrites and dozens more tweaks were needed before I was ready to send it off to colleges.

My advice for the college essay is to start early. Try to write more than one, or at least think of several ideas before writing anything down on paper. Think of something that seperates you from the crowd, whether it be your genuine interest in baking oatmeal cookies or your secret love for curling. This will bring you to life in your application, and make the reader relate to you on a more personal basis. Lastly, don’t be afraid to make multiple revisions. Creativity and perseverance are the basic keys to success with this essay.”

Lucy Hicks ’10

“Your college essay is (as are, essentially, all of the other parts of your application) a chance to tell a school what it is that makes you unique. Because your essay will be one of several thousand that the admissions officers are going to read, you want to make sure you pick a topic that will grab their attention, set your essay apart from all of the others, and demonstrate that you would be a great addition to their next freshman class. Try to write about something that isn’t obvious from the rest of your application; there will probably be a lot of information you’d like to share with the colleges to which you’re applying, and you’ll only have so much space to do so. If you are stuck between a few ideas, try writing something about each of them and see which one comes to you most easily. Remember that the goal is not to write about something “deep” and “profound”. Your topic should be something you’re familiar with, something that tells the colleges about yourself, and something on which you won’t mind spending time writing for a few weeks. Though this might seem like impossible advice, try to have fun while writing!

One of the most important things to remember is that you won’t have an essay unless you write one. This may seem obvious, but writing is the biggest step towards getting a final essay. Don’t spend time stressing about the essay when you could spend the same time trying to write it. It’s often helpful to work on the essay for a bit, put it down for a few days, and come back to it later with a fresh mindset; if you want to do this, you’ll need to start writing your essay early.

My biggest piece of advice is to write more than one essay. While it may seem like too much work at first, it will probably end up saving you a lot of work in the long run. Why? Many colleges have supplements that require you to write an essay in response to a prompt. If you’ve got more than one essay, you’ll be surprised at how often one of your already-written essays will answer the prompt. However, this advice comes with a warning: you have to tweak your essay so it fits the prompt exactly. Make sure you answer every question the prompt asks. Were you asked to start your essay with a quotation? Make sure you do that. Were you supposed to indicate which prompt you were responding to? Don’t forget that either. Is there a word limit? Remember to stay within it.

On a final note, it’s important to keep everything in perspective. Though the college essay may seem daunting at first, remember that it’s only one section of your application. So good luck, and happy writing!”

Diallo Spears ’10

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