College Application Essay: A Dream or Nightmare?
Recently there has been a lot of mention in the news about reaching the 50-year milestone anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic march on our nation’s capital. Now this may seem a little strange, but it has gotten me thinking about college application essays. Perhaps you’re thinking that I’m taking this too far, Or that I need to take a break from being a writing coach. But bear with me here, and I’ll explain.
Not unlike MLK’s speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, many essays I assist with are filled with students’ dreams: dreams of their future and dreams of their role in making this world a better place. And these dream-filled essays are coming from even the most analytical people, such as those applying to engineering programs at prestigious schools such as Michigan and MIT.
Is this a good thing? You bet! There’s a place for planning and a place for dreaming. The application essay is a place in which the student not only can—but should—allow his or her dreams to soar!
How inspirational would MLK’s speech have been if he said, “I have a plan…”? Not very, I suppose. When King spoke of his dream, it was inspirational not just to the people who shared his dream, but to all people with dreams of their own and dreams for their children. Likewise, when a student writes about his or her dreams in the essay, the admissions officer can relate because he or she was once at this fork-in-the-road of life between high school and college, student and professional, youth and adult. Dreams may differ, but we all have them; they’re what make us human.
Admissions officers see many applicants with similar GPA’s and test scores. The applicant who can write an essay that reflects his or her individuality through an interesting story will capture attention. Believe it or not, admissions officers are human, and some of their decisions, when you get right down to it, are emotional. If they like you, they’ll want you at their school. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying the numbers aren’t important. I’m saying admissions officers often turn to the GPA and test scores to rationalize their emotional decisions. Do you see the importance of the essay in the application process, especially when the GPA’s and test scores are similar among applicants? I can’t emphasize this enough: The essay absolutely can make the difference between acceptance and rejection. Think about it.
So plan on how you will finance your education and your educational path, but let your dreams shine in your essay! However, you’ll have to be more subtle than declaring “I have a dream.…” That line already has been most notably taken!