If you’re like many other high school seniors and haven’t finished your college applications yet, this advice might save your bacon.
If you’re a high school junior, this is my telling you to pay close attention and start thinking about these things NOW so your bacon doesn’t need saving, when the time comes.
Essays are always important in life. They make most students want to tear their hair out, but they can be wonderful works of art that make us proud and happy if we do them correctly. So as you might imagine, college admissions essays can be the worst experience or greatest moment of your still-very-young writing life. A lot hangs on this, so here’s some advice and do’s/don’ts I’ve picked up from others over the years.
DO: Write on the ‘create your own topic’ on the Common App. All of the others are perfectly adequate, but unless you feel you’ve got some surefire story that fits into one of those, you’re going to be able to better express who you are while avoiding the usual and regular pitfalls by writing about something completely different.
DON’T: Write about a family member or influential person. That’s over-done, and more often than not it tells the admission officer NOTHING about you. Avoid things like this that really aren’t about you at all, like mission trips and stuff like that.
DO: Write something that feels like you. My brother wrote about the strange things TSA officials have found in his carry-on when he gets searched (because he’s almost always searched… the x-ray machine doesn’t know what to make of him). I wrote abut my love of cars and how this defines me. I was told that my essay was spastic, but it got me in to some top schools, so I beg to differ. Obviously not everyone’s going to ‘get’ your essay, but those people wouldn’t ‘get’ you, either. You wan’t a school that gets you.
DON’T: Tell them that you’ve got issues. If you have trouble with stress or relating to your peers, don’t highlight that! If there’s a positive side, your recommendations will do this for you, but if you’ve got a stress ball you NEED during tests, don’t mention it. Don’t write your essay about it. JUST STAY FAR AWAY FROM THAT. Please.
DO: Tell them about something major you’ve overcome and how this has shaped you as a person. Having dyslexia? Yes. Being raped? No. You want to inspire them, not make them uncomfortable. If your paper sounds more like a therapy session than an expression of yourself as a student and person, you’ve missed the mark, so be careful with this.
DON’T: Point out your privilege. Yes, if you’re not particularly diverse it can seem like the college process is daunting, but being a rich girl dating a poor boy isn’t diversity, so don’t write about it (don’t laugh, I know someone who did this). There’s always something better to do than point something like that out, so if you feel like talking about the mission trip your parents paid for you to go on or the way that you travel to a different country every year with your parents could be a bad idea (it is), run it by a teacher and see what they think. They’re likely to be more honest than a parent.
Having worked in an admissions office for a couple of years (and I’ll probably be doing it again in the spring!), plus my own application experience, plus all my sibling’s application experience, PLUS my weird affinity for the college application process, I do consider myself a bit of an authority on this topic, so if any of you high school students have ANY questions about this or anything else about the process, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line! I’d love to help!
Any other advice you all have? Add it in the comments! Best essay you wrote? Worst topic you’ve heard of? SHARE SHARE SHARE!