Writing College Admission Essays: Two Things to Avoid

Writing College Admission Essays: Two Things to Avoid
As a former college professor, I have helped hundreds of students with their college admission essays and/or personal statements. Here I would like to discuss a couple of issues which are common and weaken such essays. One common weakness is that of being too "in awe" of the school to which you are applying. Another is "wrapping" the essay in an example that is eye-catching, yet inappropriate.
Any college that requires an admission essay is already most likely a reputable school. This fact does not need to be reiterated in your application essay. Everyone already knows that the school is coveted and that many applicants will not be accepted. Thus, there is no reason to state this. Here is example sentence that I recommended be eliminated:

The numerous resources and connections at this university will significantly increase my understanding of the field, ultimately allowing me to propose and conduct effective research of my own.

In this example, the student explicitly states that one reason they want to go to this school is because it is a good school. Everyone already knows this, and to reduce yourself to supplication is not a trait you want to advertise to a prospective school. Instead, I suggest that you mention why this school would benefit from your acceptance. Perhaps your interests align well with the program and faculty research. Or perhaps the current and up to date curriculum suits your overall career goals. My point is that you can say that a school is a good school and you want to attend there, without sounding so obvious. Think! Be creative. Show you are confident. Find a way to say this that focuses on your strengths. Do not be awestruck! Show that the school and student body will benefit from your presence. Do not state that you will benefit from going there. It is self-demeaning and unattractive to most acceptance committees.

Another common element of admission essays is to "wrap" the essay in an example. An example is given and is then returned to towards the end of the essay. This can be an effective strategy, especially if the example is a good one. However, be sure to think through the example and see all sides of it. Otherwise, it may not have the strength needed to bring your point home.

Here is a second example:

When Christopher McCandless followed his dream, he gave up his life savings and moved to the Alaskan wilderness.

What this student liked about McCandless is that he risked everything to pursue something he felt was the right thing to do. His actions cemented his ideological fortitude. However, Chris died a miserable and painful death, which, while perhaps admirable, may not evoke the proper reaction needed from an admission committee. Instead of respect and fortitude, it is possible that this example makes readers think about sadness, misguided youth and loss. A better example, may have been someone like Thurgood Marshall who bided his time following the rules of the day, to ultimately play a major role in ending segregation in higher education. He too followed a dream, but did so with result that is more pleasing to readers.

Thus, be aware that the readers of application essays are looking to get an idea about who you are. Be truthful and steadfast about your belief in your own abilities. And when using examples, select them carefully and be sure to spell out clearly what it is you feel the example illustrates. Do not make the reader try and guess what you see as positive in the example. You can write a good admission essay.

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