I get asked this question more times than I can count: “What should I write my college essay about?” This essay you submit with your college applications is not like anything you have ever written previously, and there are no two college essays that are, or should be, alike. If they are, then it’s not the right topic and it’s not uniquely about you. The essay is where your application comes to life. And writing about a broad topic doesn’t necessarily make, or break, the essay. It’s all in how you convey your thoughts on your application, where the admissions officer gains insight into who you are.
Let me first outline what your college essay should not be:
• It is not a literary masterpiece
• It is not a time for you to boast about your accomplishments or a regurgitation of your resume
• It is not a report, research or graded paper
• It is not what you think the college wants to hear, at all!
• It is not written in a style that exceeds the capabilities of the student
• It is not an illustration of how well the essay coach, if you are using one, can write
• It is not an over-edited piece that sounds like the insights and voice of an adult
• It is not a group effort or family project
• It is not a time for a parent to be critical of their child on the topic they have chosen or how they have written their essay – it is OK to offer supportive information and suggestions that the student may have forgotten or may be beneficial to the sustenance of the essay, correct grammatical errors
This all being said, you’re probably still wondering what to write about?
Your essay can be humorous, heart-wrenching, serious, light, thoughtful, thankful…You name it. It is who YOU are. You can follow prompts or write about something that you want to share.
Things to think about as you write the essay
• The college essay is an opportunity for the student to show a side of themselves that isn’t found anywhere else in the application
• It is where the student demonstrates their personality, style, and sense of self
• This is a time of self-reflection
• It is in the student’s voice and for the student to write to the best of their ability – I cannot stress this one enough!
• A parent offering encouragement and support for their child to be themselves
• Many times this is about a moment in time that then transcends to who the student is
Let’s next speak about the college admissions officer
• They read thousands of essays every year
• They can tell when a well-meaning adult has taken a heavy hand and the writing reflects someone other than the student
• They know when they are not getting a true reflection of the student
• The above may very well hurt the student, perhaps even give them reason to wonder what else on the student’s application has been driven by someone else
The best essays are the ones that I can’t put down
I have worked with and read hundreds of college essays, if not thousands. As much as I get to know my students very well, I immensely look forward to the final version of their college essay. Each and every one leaves me understanding more about who they are and lets me in on something that wasn’t shared with me previously. Many leave me with a smile, make me laugh out loud, and some pull at my heart, with tears at times. I put myself in the shoes of the college admissions officer. What will they think, feel, understand about this student? Will it leave them wanting more, getting to know this student better? No one can answer these questions definitely. Every person is different and we have to remember, admissions officers are people, who bring their own life experiences to the table along with the thousands of essays they read each and every year.
My best advice to you as you write your college essay: be you.
That is what admissions officers want. That is all they ask. It is not about what they want to hear or read. It is about who you are and remember, you are human. We all are. You can have fun with this, you can think deeply, if that is what you choose. Each and every one of us is different and that is what your college essay is about. Your unique you.
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