Writing Great College Application Essays That Pop!!!


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I gave this presentation at the Orange County School of the Arts 2013 College Night. It is essential that students and families see the importance of college application essays and the ways students can use these powerful essays to communicate unique stories and qualities.

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Writing Great College Application Essays That Pop!!!

  1. 1. Writing Great College Application Essays That Pop: Orange County School of the Arts!!! Rebecca Joseph, PhD rjoseph@calstatela.edu facebook: getmetocollege freeadvice IPhone App/Google App: All College Application Essays
  2. 2. To get us started Why do you think admissions officers get so bored reading college application essays? On a piece of paper, list your (or your child’s)  three major ways you have contributed to your community?  three major ways you have shown leadership or initiative?  three artistic experiences most proud of? .
  3. 3. How Important Are Essays? 1.Grades 2.Rigor of Coursework, School 3.Test Scores 4.Essays* 5.Recommendations-Teacher and/or Counselor 6.Activities-Sustained consistency, development, leadership, and initiative 7.Special skills, talents, awards, auditions, portfolios, community service and passions
  4. 4. What Do Colleges Look for in Essays? • A better understanding of your background, which could help put the rest of the application in context. • An understanding of why certain experiences or people have been so important to you, and thus something about what you value. • A sense of an intellectual bent, a playful mind, or a sense of humor. • A sense of your commitment to the things that most interest you and of how those interests developed. • A sense of the way you interact with others and/or are perceived by them. • An understanding of a special talent you would bring to the college or a special quality you might add to a residential community. • A good, and realistic, sense of the flesh-and-blood person behind the paper.
  5. 5. Steps to Success 1) Develop an overall strategic essay writing plan 2) Understand the different types of applications 3) Create a master chart to highlight patterns 4) Read successful sample essays 5) Write a resume 6) Brainstorm core qualities, unique stories, and short essay topics 7) Use the “Into, Through, and Beyond” method 8) Believe they can create amazing essays and control this process
  6. 6. Develop A Strategic Plan Discover how college essays should work together to help communicate key qualities and stories not available anywhere else in the application. Understand the importance of starting early. Value a writing process that involves many drafts.
  7. 7. Understand the Different Types of Applications Help students understand the landscape: 1)The Common Application 2) Large Public Universities 3) Private College Specific Applications 4) Other Systems (Universal Application, etc.)
  8. 8. Four Major Application Types: 1. The Common Application  Many private and some public American use the centralized Common Application with their own supplements  www.commonapp.org  USC, Boulder, Purdue, Ohio State are now on Common App  Most top colleges have writing supplements with additional essay requirements.  Don’t start writing any essays until you see all the essays required for your top schools.
  9. 9. 1. Common Application Essays One Long 250-650 words. Paste in.  Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.  Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?  Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family. One Short Activity Statement-Depends on College Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below or on an attached sheet (150 words or fewer). 1000 character max. Activities The Common Application leaves room for 10 activities and 5 honors with limited spaced for descriptions. Additional Information The Common Application allows you to add additional information. Only use this for truly exceptional needs to share more information. Supplemental Essays They range from one line to 500 words. Some schools have one, while other have three. They can overlap. If it says optional, view it as mandatory.
  10. 10. Sample Common App Essay – Danielle-Stanford I find English, the everyday language that rings in my ear, just as complex to understand as any other language, despite the fact that it is my native tongue. Within words, I stumble upon meanings that are lucid. My mind is lost amidst a storm of overflowing words that to me fall from nowhere: I have to meticulously make sense of them and plow through their puddles of chaos in order to comprehend the art of language and visualize the structure and process behind it. Singing is another world of communication, a seamless way of expressing oneself to full potential. With singing, one can take beautifully spoken phrases of any kind, whether colloquial, foreign, or from poetic works, and people who listen will understand the purpose of the singer. This is what I find beautiful about poetry and any other type of word form, such as speaking, mixed with the art of music. The three minutes I spend on any stage are a gift to me. Walking on the stage in a long, black dress is like walking on with an air of mystery. On that stage, I am able to plant myself firmly on the ground and let my internal energy become the external energy that diffuses into the air and fills all corners of the concert hall. No one in the audience may know anything about the piece of music I am singing, except what is listed in the concert program. This is often just one’s name, piece, and composer. All they can do is use their inner ear to gather a sense of the connotation of the phrases that I sing, whether they are in English, Italian or French.
  11. 11. More Danielle When the poetic phrases fuse together in song, I let my emotions connect with the music and use the words to share my passion for the story in my head. The audience is free to interpret what the piece of music means to them and understand that there is no right answer. For them, the process of hearing a gorgeous and passionate Italian art song leaves stillness into the air, as everyone’s thoughts, including mine, turn to internal experiences and memories that are related to the song. I feel thoroughly connected to the poetry I am singing, I feel the sense of freedom that comes from each three minute song extend into other parts of my life. I no longer feel the urge to act reserved, as this is how I sometimes feel about situations in my normal, everyday life. Now I imagine I can feel, communicate, and express the phrases I want to speak with the same confidence I communicate while singing. This is the power of the human voice: as I start to sing, its magic diffuses to my everyday communications.
  12. 12. Four Major Application Types: 2. Large Public Universities Many large and most prominent public universities have their own applications.  Universities of Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin—to name just some  They each have different essay requirements.  They each have your report activities in a different way.  But there are ways to use your other essays here as well.  They have their own essays. You should gather their topics and look for ways to use your common application essay as one of your essays for the public colleges, and visa-versa.
  13. 13. UC California  Two essays  Respond to both prompts, using a maximum of 1,000 words total.  You may allocate the word count as you wish. If you choose to respond to one prompt at greater length, we suggest your shorter answer be no less than 250 words.  Prompt #1 (freshman applicants)-[Outside-In]  Describe the world you come from – for example, your family, community or school – and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.  Prompt #2 (all applicants) [Inside-Out]  Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are
  14. 14. Jessica-UC 1 along used for Point Park From the moment I was born, I was plunged into a life of medical chaos. My older brother, Neil, was diagnosed with a kidney tumor at age two. By age seven, when I was four, he developed Leukemia. He relapsed at age 15. All in all, he’s had, and survived, cancer three times. Because of his illness and my family’s dedication to helping him survive, I was never surprised when family members, teachers, and friends treated me differently from other kids. It was as if I were the one who was sick. I received just as much sympathy as my brother. I brushed it off; I became emotionally numb to the entire situation. However, strong emotions began to surface while I was in middle school, during Neil’s third round of cancer. I refused to allow myself to be angry about this new occurrence; after all, it was nobody’s fault. However, having heard that often siblings of cancer patients tend to have major emotional issues, my parents, were concerned about me. I didn’t want them to worry, so I struggled to keep myself busy by playing soccer, attending choir rehearsals, figure skating, and taking voice lessons. It wasn’t until the eighth grade that I finally found my best emotional outlet: Musical Theatre.
  15. 15. Finally, I found something for which I had talent. Finally, I found something to do while my parents were at the hospital. Finally, I found a way to channel all my emotions and energy. Finally, I found my voice, a real voice to which people would listen. Finally! The stage offered me a way to momentarily escape my pain. Through theatre, I discovered a new supportive community and second family. Theatre helped me find confidence in myself that I previously struggled to discover. It was an outlet, a release, and a passion with which I ultimately fell in love. Before I could even fathom how I would react if my brother were to relapse for a fourth time, my father last year was diagnosed with a kidney tumor. I feared the cycle was about to start all over again. Though my father’s illness affected me emotionally, because of theater, I had the support of my peers who helped me fight alongside my father. Through these experiences, I have become an incredibly strong young woman. I have found optimism in difficult and unfortunate situations. My brother and my father are both in remission. Their bravery and willingness to fight has inspired me in numerous ways. I have built the confidence and strength that will help me accomplish all the goals in my life. While I will never forget these experiences, I don’t want that pain and sadness to define whom I am. I am more than that. I am a sister, a daughter, a fighter, and I too, am a survivor.
  16. 16. Four Major Application Types- Other privates and other systems • Georgetown, Tulane, MIT are still holdouts. They have their own applications. You can use many essays more than once. • Other systems-like Oregon State use short responses. Make sure to address new qualities in each response.
  17. 17. Develop A Master Chart Keep a chart of all essays required by each college, including short responses and optional essays. View each essay or short response as a chance to tell a new story and to share your core qualities. I recommend three sheets.  1. Major deadlines and needs. Break it down by the four application types  2. Core essays-Color code all the similar or overlapping essays.  3. Supplemental essays. Each college has extra requirements on the common application. Again color code similar types: Why are you a good match for us? How will you add to the diversity of our campus?
  18. 18. Write the Fewest Yet Most Effective Essays… Look for patterns between colleges essay requirements so that you can find ways to use essays more than once. This holds true for scholarship essays. Common Application=UC 1 or UC2 UC1=University of Washington and University of Colorado essays with slightly different endings. Danielle—Long Common=Colorado=Washington=UC 2 Lucy=Long Common=UC 1
  19. 19. Where to Begin: Brainstorm Plan to share positive messages and powerful outcomes. You can start with life or family challenges. You can describe obstacles you have overcome. You can reflect on your growth and development, including accomplishments and service. College admissions officers do not read minds, so tell them your powerful life stories. Some states can use only socio-economic status, but not race, in admissions, but in your essays, your voice and background can emerge. 1. Think of your activities you wrote about in the opening activity 2. What story can you tell to hook us into one or two of your activities?
  20. 20. Stuck…here some tips to get you pick possible topics 1. Read through Dr. Joseph’s tips for brainstorming. They include 1. Starting by writing three short activity statements 2. Reading model essays from actual college websites 3. Looking at other college’s essay prompts-U Chicago, Tufts 4. Writing a “Where I’m From” piece 5. Creating a letter to future roommate or an amazing list of what makes you you. 6. Reading models from other students.
  21. 21. Tw0 Shorts- What Qualities Does Each Reveal? Acting  My first role in a high school production was Malcolm in Macbeth. However, I wasn’t the only girl crossing genders; MacDuff, Banquo, King Duncan, and the leading man himself were all played by women. Our director wasn’t insane; she was merely casting an all-female production of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy at an all girls’ high school. Through my experience in these all-female productions, I learned certain aspects of acting that many young women miss out on. I learned how to play a man! I know how to walk like a man, talk like a man, and how to be anatomically different from a woman. Looking back on it now, I realize it’s quite silly to imagine a 14-year-old girl acting like a brawny, strapping young man. The techniques I learned, however, have helped me in many rewarding ways. Knowing how to act like a man is a skill that I surprisingly often use. During warm-ups at my new co- ed theatre company, I often improvise a surprisingly convincing male personality. I sometimes bring this brawny aspect to my women characters to give them more depth, including the independence and confidence I brought last spring to Smitty in How to Succeed... I have gained a masculine confidence that will help me later in life. Inside this 5 foot 5 inch frame is not only an independent, strong, young woman, but also a masculine, brave, young man. To your college campus, I offer the best of both worlds!
  22. 22. Dance Dance   The speakers blast as my heart races as the fast, hard tempo pulses through me. As the spotlight goes on, all I hear is the internal, “five, six, seven, eight.” My joy, expression, and release is hip-hop. My passion for dance began in middle school, as I tried ballet, jazz, and lyrical. But something wasn’t right. Stepping into my first hip-hop class, I felt the quick rhythm and vivacious voices take full control of me. This genre isn’t stiff or structured, but timeless and boundless, and all mine. I joined my school’s dance team and soon enough found a whole new thrill in creating my own routines. As captain of my high school dance team, serving my own creations to my team is sweet and satisfying. While I watch my team, my second family with whom I sweat, glide and fly, I am filled with pride knowing my moves unify us on the dance floor. As my heart reverberates through my body, I walk on stage with my team behind me. Hushed silence. The volume raises. Five, six, seven, eight.
  23. 23. 1st person only. Always write in the first person. Remember, these are autobiographical essays, even when you talk about other people. Remember the colleges are looking to accept you, not your relatives. So use the one third and two thirds rule. If you choose to write about someone or something else, you must show how it affected you for the majority of the essay. Your essays show colleges why you belong on college campuses and share how you will enrich diverse communities.
  24. 24. Into, Through, and Beyond Essay Approach Follow Dr. Joseph’s Into, Through, and Beyond approach. Lead the reader INTO your story with a powerful beginning—a story, an experience. Take them THROUGH your story with the context and keys parts of your story. Make sure the reader understands your initiative, leadership, development, and continuity. End with the BEYOND message about how this story has affected who you are now and who you want to be in college and potentially after college. The beyond can be implied in many pieces that are so strong that moralizing at the end if not necessary. It is not just the story that counts. It’s the choice of qualities a student wants the college to know about herself
  25. 25. Take the Time With These Essays Use active writing: avoid passive sentences and incorporate power verbs. Show when possible; tell when summarizing. Have trusted inside and impartial outside readers read your essays. Make sure you have no spelling or grammatical errors.
  26. 26. Write the Unexpected I knelt on the ground, aching from the asphalt grinding into my dusty and blackened knees. A piece of thick blue chalk in hand, with one fluid sweep of the arm, and then another, I connected two paths, creating a loop, where one path swung back and reconnected with itself. I stood up. Colorful lines intertwined with each other, knotting, weaving, splitting off, and joining back together. Taking careful steps, I walked over my creation, around the corner of a building, and watched as it continued to stretch out towards one end of school. I spied the start, looked back around the corner, and imagined the end. A few middle-schoolers stood at the edge of my maze, eying one particular path from their feet, all the way until they lost it, then returning to their school day and continuing on to class. A pair of freshman walked the paths, twisting and turning, often looping back around; careful to stay within the lines I had drawn. I walked back to where I was working, picked out a new piece of yellow chalk, and quickly broke an open end of a path into two open ends, then two into four, sweeping, crossing over, then under one another, morphing into green when the yellow chalk ran out.
  27. 27. “I did it!” I looked up. One of the freshmen stood at the end of one of the numerous openings of my half finished maze, arms raised above his head, spinning slowly in circles. Staring blankly at him was his counterpart, still lost deep within the curls of the maze. It was not for myself that I had drawn the maze. It was for the kids mindlessly walking from class to class, staring at the asphalt under their feet as they thought about equations and essays. I created it so that these kids would have another world to enter as they crisscrossed the school, letting their minds wander to a land of color and art. But just as easily as I can draw a chalk line on the ground, I can drowsily greet hundreds of students on a misty morning, moisten the ground, and wash away my chalk line. My work with film is different though. When I create films, I expect them to last forever. I expect to be able to dig them out of an old dusty attic box, plug in a dusty and outdated DVD player and watch what I made. When I come up with an idea, a thought, I expect that idea to be buried deep within the folds of my memory for eternity, waiting to be rediscovered. But not chalk. When using chalk, I expect whatever I make to be gone almost as soon as I draw it, which makes whatever I create all the more precious. When I only have a few seconds, a few hours, a few days to cherish something, those fleeting moments become all the more powerful. All I can do is work to make the most beautiful creations possible and cherish them while they last.
  28. 28. Final Thoughts Tip 10. Most importantly, make yourself come alive throughout this process. Write about yourself as passionately and powerfully as possible. Be proud of your life and accomplishments. Sell yourself!!!  Students often need weeks not days to write effective essays. You need to push beyond stereotypes.  You must ultimately submit what pleases you.  Essays cannot be manufactured. They convey truth, unique stories, and writing skills.  Admissions officers can smell “enhanced” essays.  Students have two to five minutes to grab the attention of a essay reader.  You can find many great websites and examples but each student is different.  Admissions officers often say essays make or break an ultimate decision for students applying to “match colleges.”  Buy my app: ALL COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAYS
  29. 29. As you work on drafts and revise…  Does your essay start with a story that hooks us in from the first paragraph?  If you start in the past, do you get to the present very quickly? Colleges want to know about the recent you.  Do you write only in the first person and not spend too much time describing anyone or anything else?  If you are writing about your community or family, do you get to the present and your life and life works quickly? Can this description only connect to you and your story of who are you and how you are making a difference?  Do you only tell one story and not try to tell your entire life story?  If you are writing about an obstacle or challenge overcome, do you get to how you have responded and made a difference in the life of your community within the first half of the essay?  Endings—  If you are responding to UC 1, do you end with how your story has affected your dreams and aspirations—in terms of majors, life goals, and your community?  If you are responding to UC 2, do you make sure to connect whatever you writing about to a major activity or project you have done?  If you responding to the Common Application long essay, do you end with a bang. You don’t have to have a formal ending like the UC applications.  Do you have a metaphor that goes through the entire piece…does this metaphor reveal who you are and what you offer to potential colleges? You can embed this metaphor throughout out a piece.  Can I close my eyes and picture your story? Does it make you sound unique and not like anyone else applying? Can I see your leadership and initiative and the power of what you will offer my college campus?  Do you tell new stories and qualities in each separate essay your write? Do you make sure to reveal powerful information and core messages that colleges will need to know to admit you and give your money to attend?
  30. 30. You Can Make Your College Dreams Come True Rebecca Joseph, PhD rjoseph@calstatela.edu facebook: getmetocollege freeadvice IPhone App/Google: All College Application Essays Get a Free Code Today