Now that you have built your college list, planned your trip to campus, visited schools, planned for your senior year of high school and secured admissions recommendations, you will want to put your best foot forward with your admissions application essay.
Your admissions application essay is important. Like the free throw in basketball, the essay is something over which you have a great deal of control — and your essay will be judged accordingly by colleges. In fact, in a recent survey, the essay was regarded by colleges as more important than an admissions interview, extracurricular activities, class rank, even teacher and counselor recommendations.
Here are three tips for writing the best possible essay:
1. Pick the topic of greatest interest to you. The Common Application, for example, used by hundreds of colleges and universities across the country, provides five broad essay prompts. By picking the topic in which you have the greatest interest, you are more likely to spend the necessary time and effort to write a quality essay. (Hint: Think about a topic that will either: a) highlight an important area of your application, or b) give you an opportunity to discuss something of importance to you that might not otherwise appear in your application.)
2. Write in your own “voice.” Put aside the thesaurus. Admissions officers are not really interested in how many obscure words you can use — and may become frustrated if they have to look them up! Your essay will be, in many cases, the one opportunity an admissions officer — or admissions committee, should excerpts of your essay be presented to a group — has to “meet” you. Make your essay your own, not someone else’s.
3. Proofread, proofread and proofread! This is especially important in the days of autocorrect and spell-checkers, neither of which will save you. Here are some real-life essay “bloopers” (with thanks to William C. Hiss, a former dean of admissions and financial aid and my first “boss” in admissions, for sharing these):
— “I was abducted into the National Honor Society…”
— “Needles to say…”
— “I have undergone many diverse activities in my life, and have eradicated meaning from each one…”
Note that a spell-checker would not have captured any of the above bloopers. So, it is a good idea to have another person — sibling, parent, friend, teacher or guidance counselor — take a look at your essay before you include it in your admissions application.
Scott Steinberg is the Dean of University Admissions at the University of New England, with responsibility for undergraduate and graduate admissions. He has held admissions leadership positions at Bates College, Bowdoin College and the University of Southern Maine. He earned his M.B.A. from Columbia University, Graduate School of Business, and a B.A. in Mathematics and Music from Bates College.