Writing The College Application Essay


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Power Point presentation created in spring 2009 for Normandale Community College\'s career center

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Writing The College Application Essay

  2. 2. THE PURPOSE OF THE COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY IS TO GIVE THE ADMISSIONS COMMITTEE INFORMATION ABOUT WHO YOU ARE. The University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus  typically receives over 17,000 freshman applications per year. It is anticipated by the admissions board that only 11,000 applicants will initially be accepted, and 6,000 will ultimately accept. The number of transfer students tends to be smaller and  have a better chance of getting in, but the number of place openings at the 3rd-year level also tends to be smaller. Grade point averages are considered along with test  scores---the typical U freshman in the College of Liberal Arts scored 25.9 on the ACT and was in the 86th percentile for his or her high school class---but the essay often is the “make or break” for the officers looking at your application.
  3. 3. WHAT IS THE ADMISSIONS BOARD LOOKING FOR IN MY ESSAY? The key questions they ask when reading your essay  are: Will this person be a good representative of our college?  Does s/he seem like a person of high moral character and outstanding work ethic? Will this person use his or her education to benefit the  community or the world at large? Also, will this person benefit the college, now and later on? (Think Alumni Association and generous donations to the college when you are in your 40s.) Will he or she be a good fit for this campus? Does he or  she have the desire to succeed, even if the grades or test scores don’t reflect it?
  4. 4. HOW DO I CONVEY THESE THINGS TO THE ADMISSIONS BOARD? Be specific : Avoid generalizations.  Not: “I want to be a doctor so I can help people.”  (Admissions people read things like this all the time. If you want to help people, join the Peace Corps, which is less expensive and doesn’t require 14-hour shifts in the ER.) Try something like this: “Ever since I was eight years old and  watched an ER physician put sutures in my split kneecap, I have wanted to become a doctor.” The last line is also a good introduction to an essay, because  it gets the reader to want to hear more about your kneecap, and hence your story. Not: “Society encourages us to be materialistic.”  (Who is “us?” Which society are you talking about, and aren’t you part of this society?) Try: “I grew up in an affluent neighborhood, where people  thought the kind of cell phone you carried was more important than a reading by Toni Morrison at the local college.”
  5. 5. HOW DO I CONVEY THESE THINGS TO THE ADMISSIONS BOARD? (2) Use proper grammar and spelling, and be  personable: that is, think as if you are meeting a roomful of strangers for the first time. If you’re not sure about your grammar, get a writer’s  handbook like The New McGraw-Hill Handbook and use it religiously.  Better yet, have someone with better grammar and spelling than yours read your essay out loud for you. The reason you want to hear the essay read out loud is  because your ear will pick up your mistakes before your brain does. We all learn language by listening first, so your ears are better trained to pick up “funny” sentences. You may also notice you don’t sound very nice or determined or whatever feeling you intend to convey to the Admissions Board.
  6. 6. HOW DO I CONVEY THESE THINGS TO THE ADMISSIONS BOARD? (3) Remember your audience: that is, make sure your  style of writing will appeal to a wide group of people. The Admissions Board of each college differs: some  have student reviewers who were once in your shoes and may be more understanding of your situation than others. On the other hand, a 22-year-old college senior may be a lot tougher on you than say, a 60-year-old senior who has seen it all and may have more compassion for your errors or your low math section scores.  More colleges are looking for diversity, so the people reading your essay will come from different professions and cultural, political, and economic backgrounds.
  7. 7. HOW DO I CONVEY THIS TO THE ADMISSIONS BOARD? (4) Be honest.  Do NOT pad your application or essay with awards you  almost received or jobs you could have done. All the person reading your essay needs to do is pick up the phone to verify the information, and you’re done.  Do NOT try to be someone you’re not. If you aren’t into politics, don’t try to put your life in the context of world events. If you’re terrible at telling a joke, don’t force yourself to be funny. Be sincere and write from the heart. Admissions boards appreciate this more than the person whose essay is little more than a list of accomplishments. (“After I became captain of the basketball team and won first place in the state debate tournament, I was invited to join the Honor Society and make a speech at the governor’s youth conference….”)
  8. 8. HOW DO I CONVEY THIS TO THE ADMISSIONS BOARD? (5) Stories about personal hardships can be  effective, but be careful about how you use them. If you are trying to stand out from 10,999 other  applicants, a story about a personal tragedy or your struggle with poverty, substance abuse, a physical disability, etc. can be a powerful way of getting the committee’s attention. However, they may decide that the college will not be a good fit for you: many private colleges, for instance, do not have a large budget for special needs services. On the other hand, they may think you will add to the diversity of the incoming class and will be more than happy to accept you.
  9. 9. HOW DO I CONVEY THESE THINGS TO THE ADMISSIONS BOARD? (6) Note: Your data and any personal information you  disclose in your essay is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The members of the admissions board may not discuss anything they’ve read about you outside of the admissions board offices or with anyone not on the board.
  10. 10. HOW DO I CONVEY THESE THINGS TO THE ADMISSIONS BOARD? (7) Did you read the question asked on your  application? Did you answer it? Does your essay focus on the topic you chose? Did you meet the word limit? If the application asked you to write about an  experience that changed your life, don’t begin telling the reader about your horrible second-grade teacher, then end with your trip to Yosemite and climbing Glacier Point.  If you are missing some things in your academic resume like community or volunteer work, briefly explain why you haven’t been able to perform these (e.g. family responsibilities or illness).