High School 2 College

July 25, 2012

Everything You Need to Know About The College Application Essay

So far, it has been a glorious summer in New York.  Not too cold, not too hot (not too hot for me, anyway), not too dry, not too wet.  I’m sure the very last thing you want to do now is write a college essay.  Too bad.  The summer is passing quickly and if you’re going into your senior year in high school, it’s time to write your college application essay.

There was a wonderful article ta couple of years ago in the Washington Post (wonderful because it reiterates all the advice I give my own students) about writing a college admission essay.  Keep reading, and I’ll tell you about it.

I know that many high schools provide time for you to write your essay in English class in the fall, but don’t wait.  First of all, your English teacher isn’t an expert in college essays.  In most classes, he will distribute an article and/or a sample essay, and then sit back while you struggle with what to write and how to write it.   He can’t help you much because in most cases he only met you a few weeks before and doesn’t have the slightest idea what you should write about.  Secondly, your English teacher will have dozens and dozens (and dozens) of essays to grade and at best will scan your essay for obvious spelling errors.  Most of all, if you think you’re busy now, imagine how busy you’ll be in September and October.  So don’t wait.

But what should you write about? The first step is to answer the question.  What question?  The question that the college wants you to answer.  Most colleges accept the Common Application, a generic college application that purports to allow you to apply to many schools at once.  In previous blogs, I’ve written about my concerns about the common ap, but some schools only accept the common ap, so start there.

Print out the common application.  Every college application is some variation of this form.  You’ll want to complete this in pencil, so hang on to the version you’ve printed out.  The essay questions are at the end of the application.

Print out applications of other schools that you are interested in. Nearly all schools have their applications available online, so just print them out and read the essay topic.

Group the applications by essay topic. See if you can write one essay that would fit for 5 or 6 colleges.  Sometimes kids spend all summer writing an essay that will only work for one college.

I might as well confess this now (buried as it is in the middle of my blog) that there isn’t one college essay.  You’ll probably have to write at least 3 different essays because different schools want you to respond to different questions.  Sorry to be the one to break that news.

The goal of the essay is to let the college know something about you it couldn’t find out from your transcript, your resume, or your application.  They already know from your application if you play a sport.  They know about your community service activities.  They know how smart you are by your grades.

But what makes you different from the other kids on your team?  What makes you different from the other B+ students in your English class?

The best essays portray a moment in time, an insight into the “real” you.  The best essay I ever read was written by a student of mine, Chris M.  He was just an average student in high school, about a C+ student if I remember.  But he wrote about his first hunting trip with his father and his uncle, a trip he had longed for as a child.  Now here he was, in the frost of fall morning, alone with his gear and his gun, praying that a deer didn’t come by because he realized he didn’t really want to kill a deer after all, remembering his grandfather who had died hunting, and thinking that this was way more important than sports or girls.  It was brilliant, charming, engaging, honest.  Sure, it needed cleaning up, but every line showed me a Chris I hadn’t known in all the weeks we had done SAT tutoring together.  (He got into his first choice college.)

Have you had an experience that shows us an insight into who you are, what makes you vulnerable? Read thisexcellent advice on writing a college essay from the Washington Post.   Now there are at least two of us telling you the same thing: write from the heart, be humble, don’t take yourself too seriously, show them who you are.

Here are essays that you should avoid. I’ve read DOZENS of each of these, and if I gag reading these, so do the admissions people.

  • I play sports, and I blew the big game, but I worked hard and came back to victory
  • I play sports, and now I understand about personal effort and teamwork
  • I went to Nicaragua (or Arkansas) and now I realize that there are poor people in the world and I’m very lucky
  • My mother/father/aunt/cousin had a dread disease and now I’m going to cure cancer/multiple sclerosis/heart disease
  • I most admire my dad because he’s a swell guy and he works hard for our family
  • I’ve gone to Israel/Italy/Argentina on vacation and now I understand people of the world
  • My family moved when I was 8/10/15 and I had to really define myself

I do a lot of work with kids on college essays, and I know we’ve hit on the right topic when they begin to smile.  If it’s something you really want to write about, it’s more likely that someone else will want to read it.

Lastly, keep it to 500 words. That’s about one side of a typed page at size 12 font.  When the application says 500 words, they mean 500 words or less.  Not 501.  501 says you don’t know how to follow directions, you don’t know how to edit, or you think what you have to say is more important than what other kids have to say.  Take the word counts seriously!

Write an essay or two and leave it for a few weeks. Look at it after a while.  Is it as good as you thought?  Should it be revised?  Or should it be scrapped for a new topic?  Show it to a friend or family member.  Take your time.

But don’t take so long that the summer passes by completely.  Get started now, and let me know if you need help getting started.

Wendy Segal

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July 5, 2012

More Vocabulary Help: Words With Unusual Other Forms

Okay, boys and girls.  Have some fun with vocabulary.  Tell your mom or dad the harder form of the word and see if he or she knows the easier form.  These words have shown up time and again on the SATs.

Enjoy!

The word you know:                        Another form of the word:

resolve                                               resolution

parenthesis                                        parenthetical

analogy                                              analogous

credible                                              credit

expand                                               expansive

intrude                                               intrusive

concede                                             concession

inquire                                               inquiry

denounce                                          denunciation

prose                                                  prosaic

humble                                              humility

doubt                                                dubious

proper                                               propriety

retain                                                retentive

spontaneous                                  spontaneity

governor                                        gubernatorial

Do you know any other common words which have a more difficult other form?  Let me know!

Wendy SegalImage

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