Communicating Your Stories: Tips for Great College Application Essays


Published on

College Application Essays are the top non-academic factor in college admissions. Here are some tips to help under-represented and other students write great essays.

Published in: Education
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide
  • 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.
  • We seek to help students follow these six steps to give these admission officers what they seek. We ask questions that allow students to: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.
  • Encourage students to look for patterns between college essays and use essays more than once!Discover how college essays should work together to help communicate key qualities and stories not available anywhere else in the application.
  • Encourage students to reflect on WHAT they’ve done and HOW they have spent their time in and out of school.
  • Communicating Your Stories: Tips for Great College Application Essays

    1. 1. Communicatingyourstories:Strategies forhelpingstudents writepowerfulcollegeessays Rebecca Joseph, PhDrjoseph@calstatela.edufacebook: getmetocollege freeadviceFB page: All College EssaysiPad/iPhone App: All College Application Essays
    2. 2. Florisel’s Essay• The rain felt like needles pricking at my skin, causing me to wish I couldhave had an extra layer of clothing. But what could have an extra layer ofclothing done? Not much since further ahead it would have beendamped and heavy. I always wished for marathons to be on cloudy andrainy days so the heat wouldn’t cause the runs to be harder. A year agoduring the LA Marathon, I got more than I wished for. It poured heavily.• But this time, I wasn’t running for myself; I was running with the fourmiddle school students I had trained for the past eight months. I startedoff the race running alongside the coach and a student who wanted tobe sure she would have a good pace to finish. Surprisingly, by the secondmile, she had already started to speed up, and I asked her if she wouldlike to run ahead. The enthusiastic look in her eyes shone through like aray of light; she was hopeful that by running ahead she could beat thetime people expected of her. As both of us continued on towards thefourth mile, the rain became heavier and the chilly wind grew fierce. Theonly way we could try to battle the cold and try to keep our bodies warmwas to run faster and longer.••
    3. 3. Florisel’s Essay• Little by little we managed to run the magnificent “From the Stadium to the Sea”course. It was my fourth time running the L.A. Marathon and second timerunning the course. To my benefit and disgrace knowing the path helped andhurt me--I knew how far we were from the finish line, the hills, streets, andplaces. That made the temptation to stop when I felt sleepy and exhausted greatjust like the temptation to run ahead when I had energy, but I was aware that mypartner was going to need help and encouragement in those last and arduousmiles. With her I was able to give back the support I received in my firstmarathon, and deep inside I was grateful for the opportunity.• As we headed to Rodeo Drive a sudden rush of energy came over me. The viewof the stores and their elegance made me remember that the marathonrepresented my struggle to achieve a better life for myself and the people Iloved. I remembered that I had my family standing in the cold and harsh raintrying to stay dry under the umbrellas whose flaps were weak against that oceanwind.
    4. 4. Florisel’s Essay• Remembering all this carried me through when I hit the wall on mile 22. Theenergy I had felt before was leaving my grasp. I felt that that was as far as I couldgo. My partner had become exhausted and our walking pace had become slower.We had met three other students who were struggling to continue, one of themwas starting to get the chills, while another had cramps; it was at that momentthat my real fear began. I was scared that they might collapse and that I wouldn’tbe able to help them. All I could think of was to accommodate the pace to theirneeds without letting them give up on running at least a little.• All five of us completed the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon on the rainiest andcoldest day we ever experienced. My greatest accomplishment was to helpstudents achieve the goals they thought impossible to complete. I learned that Ihave the strength and character to accomplish and succeed, and that though theroad may not be easy, it is possible.
    5. 5. Essays = opportunityTake control over the highest ranked non-academic aspect of theapplicationRealize the package of essays counts…not just oneShare their voiceExpress who they really areShow (not tell) stories that belong only to them and help themjump off the pageChallenge stereotypesReflect on their growth and development, includingaccomplishments and serviceSeek to understand what the admission officer is looking for
    6. 6. How important are the essays?1. Grades2. Rigor of Coursework, School3. Test Scores4. Essays*5. Recommendations-Teacher and/or Counselor6. Activities-Sustainedconsistency, development, leadership, andinitiative7. Special skills, talents, awards, community serviceand passions
    7. 7. What do admissions officerslook for in essays?ContextValuesIntellectual curiosity, a playful mind, or a sense of humorCommitment/Depth of InterestsInteraction with and/or perception by othersSpecial talents and qualitiesRealistic self-appraisal
    8. 8. Steps to success1)Understand the essays you will have to write2)Create a master chart to highlight patterns3)Read successful sample essays4)Write a resume5)Brainstorm core qualities and unique stories6)Use the “Into, Through, and Beyond” method
    9. 9. Understand the essays…• The University of California Prompts• All applicants must respond to two essay prompts — the general promptand either the freshman or transfer prompt, depending on your status.• Responses to your two prompts must be a maximum of 1,000 words total.• Allocate the word count as you wish. If you choose to respond to one prompt atgreater length, we suggest your shorter answer be no less than 250 words.• The essay prompts• 1. Freshman applicant prompt• 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.• 2. Prompt for all applicants• Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experiencethat is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proudand how does it relate to the person you are?
    10. 10. Understand the essays…1)The Common Application: New Prompts! One Long: Some students have a background or story that is so central to theiridentity that they believe their application would be incomplete withoutit. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did itaffect you, and what lessons did you learn? Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What promptedyou to act? Would you make the same decision again? Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. Whatdo you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you? Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that markedyour transition from childhood to adulthood within yourculture, community, or family. Short, Activities, Additional Information, and Supplemental2)Large Public Universities—The UCS, and other big publics3)Private College Specific Applications4)Other Systems (Universal Application, etc.)
    11. 11. Create a master chart: patterns1)Major Deadlines and Needs (by application type)2)Core Essays (color code all similar or overlappingessays)3)Supplemental Essays (color code similar typesi.e. “Why are you a good match for us?” or “Howwill you add to the diversity of our campus?”
    12. 12. Read sample essays andpromptsEssays that worked: Connecticut CollegeUniversity of Chicago, Elon, and Tufts have greatadditional essay promptsEssays from other students in your programs
    13. 13. Write a resumeAcademic: Current school, honors, AP courses, testscores (if strong), summer programsActivities: Colleges look forconsistency, development, leadership, and initiative.Describe the level of activity and any awards andhonors received. Include leadership positions held.Include Sports, Service, Volunteer Work, Jobs orEmployment, Internships as appropriate.
    14. 14. Core qualities and uniquestoriesBrainstorming Exercises:Write a letter to future roommateWrite a “Where I’m From” poem modeledon George Lyon’s originalWrite three responses to the commonapplication short essay activities prompt
    15. 15. Letter to future roommateDear Roommate,I love making lists. A series of lists serve as decorations of my walls, lockers and notebooks—speckles of organization in a lifestylecharacterized by organized chaos.One of my most recent list-making tasks began at two in the morning, with my trying to write about some part of my personality that Iwanted to share. I began listing small things about myself, and found myself inspired to create a large list of tiny things that define manyparts of who I am.The first one on the list goes without saying.I have problems falling asleep.The pronunciation and spelling of my names serves a conversation starter wherever I go.I move my lips when I anticipate other people talking.I have the ability to create and develop different fonts in my handwriting.The first things I look for in someone’s room are the books they keep.Ive been sleeping with a 2-foot stuffed bear for nine years.All I want is to be able to buy a keychain with my name already on it.Ive been told that I have a silly sense of humor.I have enough journals to fill an entire bookshelf.I love documentaries.One of my favorite words is “ubuntu,” which means humanity in Xhosa.When I was thirteen, I tried writing an autobiography comprised of poems.I am most compatible with people who I think are most like me.I feel like a four-star chef when I make salads.Im an ENTJ.My favorite colors are coral and cerulean.If I could have any superpower, I would have the ability to be in two places at once.I eat ice cream with a fork.I’m obsessed with the game Bananagrams™.I drink orange juice right after I brush my teeth—just for the sour taste.Scary movies are the worst.
    16. 16. Letter to future roommateDear Roommate:For a majority of my life, I have shared the same room with my two younger brothers, so I am confident youwill become family in no time. Based on my expertise, I have developed following guidelines to get us off toa smooth and sound freshmen year:1. All non-Dodgers posters will be removed at your expense, and Giants posters will be burned on your bed.2. The use of anyone else’s toothbrush is frowned upon.3. If you need to borrow my laptop, ask- don’t just take it.4. If you need to borrow my underwear, don’t ask- just take it.My fifth and most important recommendation is play whatever music you want.Rock, religious, renaissance romantic, rap- whatever, I’ll listen to it. In fact my friend from back home and Iarrange rock and rap into mashups, so I can handle both. Even if the song you decide to play is just good, Iknow it can be great. Maybe we’ll drop a beat, add some power chords, or back it up with a Disneysoundtrack. Don’t worry if our songs are completely different genres- the more diverse the tracks, thebetter the mashup. If you have an idea for something new, we can compose and perform it together.I guarantee I will think that whatever you do with your time is awesome. If you’re part of a book club andI’m part of an a cappella group, we’ll sing stories. If I’m broadcasting on KZSU 90.1 and you’re a member ofthe Chinese Dance club, I’ll do play-by-play of your moves.I would love to visit you wherever you live, and you’re welcome to visit me. I have lived in NewYork, Connecticut, Poland, Connecticut again, and Los Angeles, and I have visited over thirty countries. Thatis, unless you fail to follow rule number one.
    17. 17. George lyon’s “Where I’m from”Where Im FromI am from clothespins,from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.I am from the dirt under the back porch.(Black, glistening,it tasted like beets.)I am from the forsythia bushthe Dutch elmwhose long-gone limbs I rememberas if they were my own.Im from fudge and eyeglasses,from Imogene and Alafair.Im from the know-it-allsand the pass-it-ons,from Perk up! and Pipe down!Im from He restoreth my soulwith a cottonball lamband ten verses I can say myself.Im from Artemus and Billies Branch,fried corn and strong coffee.From the finger my grandfather lostto the auger,the eye my father shut to keep his sight.Under my bed was a dress boxspilling old pictures,a sift of lost facesto drift beneath my dreams.I am from those moments--snapped before I budded --leaf-fall from the family tree.
    18. 18. Three responses to commonapplication short essay promptList the activities you chose to describeWrite down the traits you believe you show explicitly orimplicitly to a collegeExamples: empathetic, resilient, determined,collaborative, creative, insightful, analytic, etc.Which traits you listed or didn’t list might lead to a longessay? What topics might you write about?Examples: Innovative….creating a peer mentoringprogram for a local elementary school; resilient…living intwo worlds (urban neighborhood and elite private school)
    19. 19. Into, through, and beyondInto• Lead the reader into the story• Start with a hook• Consider cutting first paragraph(s) from first draftThrough• Use 1/3, 2/3 method: if starting with a life or family challenge, move quickly into whostudent is now; if writing about someone who influenced, make sure 2/3 of essay is aboutthe student not the person of influence• Use first person• Show don’t tellBeyond• Connect to who student is now and who student wants to be• Evoke core qualities, convey morals
    20. 20. David’s Essay• The summer of my sophomore year I was selected out of 280 students by UpwardBound to attend a National Student Leadership Congress Conference inWashington DC. During the conference I participated in many workshops andlearned that just because we come from different cultures or a person is gay orlesbian you should not treat him or her differently or block him out. We are alldifferent and have different ideas but what we all have one thing incommon, change.• Being given the keys of how to approach a problem and make change, I decided tofocus on one injustice at my school. Entering my junior year many parents weregiven $60 tickets for dropping off students at Wilson High School because therewas no proper location drop-off zone. I was determined to make a change to myschool standing up for parents and create a formal passenger loading zone at myschool.• I first contacted a Los Angeles Community Safety Representative in charge of mydistrict and told him how badly Wilson needed a passenger loading zone. Taking ita step further, I took the initiative to contact my Councilmember Jose Huizar andhad a lengthy discussion with him about the situation. We met one on one; heencouraged me to continue being involved in improving my community. I initiallydid not get far in gaining any grounds with the passenger loading zone due to thebureaucracy and my age.
    21. 21. David’s Essay• I also felt the need to take a proactive approach, so I contacted our schoolsuperintendent, explained and discussed how we can go about gaining a permit orthe city’s permission. I quickly learned the process was a big a run around, at thispoint I was at the verge of breaking down, but I knew it was up to me. I had toprove to myself and these elected officials that failure was not an option, so I tookthe initiative to request an investigation through the City of Los Angeles. I wasinstructed to write a proposal and start a petition. From start to finish, afternumerous phone calls, petitions, and meetings, it took approximately 10 monthsto finally install a Passenger Loading Zone.• Fighting for justice, equality, and opportunity for a safe way to get to school hasinspired me to enter the world of politics. Establishing networks to communicatewell with others to accomplish in obtaining the loading zone has empowered meto seek change in my community. When I have an objective in mind, I stay focuseduntil I can see it through and keep in mind that at the university level obstacles willbe more complicated. Reflecting back I have learned about myself that I ampassionate, determined, and have the dedication to make change. I am who I wantto be. I have accepted the past and realized that there are specific things I cannotcontrol. A lot of doors were shut in my face and numerous run arounds due to myage. But that did not discourage me bur rather just drove me to want to obtain theloading zone because I knew it was unjust.
    22. 22. Final thoughtsStudents need to remember that they: Can create amazing essays and control this process Have two to five minutes to grab the attention of an essay reader. Need weeks, not days, to write effective college essays. Must ultimately submit what pleases them. Cannot manufacture essays; essays convey truth, unique stories, andwriting skills.Students need to remember that admission officers: Can smell “enhanced” essays. Often say essays make or break an ultimate decision for students applyingto “match colleges.”
    23. 23. Contact usDr. Rebecca Shehas an iPhone/iPad App-AllCollege Application Essays thatlists every major applicationessay students have to write.