The College Essay: Am I Doing This All Wrong?
With deadlines creeping up at me slowly, yet seeming to come faster and faster everyday, I feel much more pressure to finally sit down and write a stellar college essay as if by some miracle that will occur when I sit down at the computer. However, when I look at my possible topics it becomes clear that this is very unlikely to happen. This leads me to wonder, isn't there a better way?
So far, I have merely been brainstorming for events that are important to me, and then asking why they are important in my life. But an article I recently read on www.quintcareers.com brought a different approach to the table:
Have you selected a topic that describes something of personal importance in your life, with which you can use vivid personal experiences as supporting details?
About the College Application Essay
This idea makes much more sense to me. College admissions officers are trying to find out what makes you unique; but if you don't know what makes you unique, how can you know which events exhibit your uniqueness? The experience shouldn't be the topic of your essay. The topic should be an aspect of you, illustrated by the experience. Granted, if you write an essay about an event that had a profound effect on you, this idea will come out (hopefully). But for me, by changing my perspective I was able to focus on specific details of each event that contributed to the development of my values. An event should not be run through like a story you would tell your friends, with a conclusion at the end saying how the event effected you. Instead, every detail should pertain to what you learned. This explicit statement of your values will make an essay much more to the point for an admissions officer who reads many essays every day.
So now I have my event. What's next? Concrete details seem like a good idea to the College Board:
Develop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, quotations, examples, and reasons. There's a big difference between simply stating a point of view and letting an idea unfold in the details.
But it seems that the trick here is to be concise. From the examples provided by the College Board, I get the feeling that obvious aspects don't need details. "I'm a slob" brings up pretty obvious images, but "I'm diverse" does not. Slobs have a general outline, but diversity can take many different forms. The same goes for being passionate, unpredictable or conscientious: backing these up with concrete details would provide a unique image. Another good quote comes from an article I picked up at a college information session at Judge a few nights ago: "The essay has to be about you, and convey your personality... you have to have a sense of yourself. They should also remember that we don't want to read about who you were or what you did back in eighth grade. We want to find out who you are now."
So what does a college essay need? Relevance to your current life, concrete details, events as supporting details that illustrate a personal aspect of yourself, and voice. This is a short and incomplete list, to be sure. But at least it's a start. To all those willing to comment out there, more ideas wouldn't hurt one bit.