What’s Your Story?
Speaking of stories, how’s that college application essay coming along?
Before football season ends, the early application deadline will have passed. And like it or not, the early deadline is getting to be the norm. Colleges report an increasing number of students are applying early, especially early action (non-binding). Why? It offers the best chance of acceptance. Here in Maryland, the College Park campus requires students to apply early to be considered for its honors and scholars programs.
Most of the applications are fairly straight forward. However, when it comes to the essays, there needs to be much thought and introspection. Application essays are not like academic essays, in which one researches, jots down some facts, organizes and writes. If you want the admissions officers to notice your application among the hundreds—if not thousands—they review, you’d better have an impressive essay.
Take control, and think of it as your chance to tell your own story. That’s what the admissions officers want! They know your test scores and GPA, but they don’t know what kind of person you are. How do you think? How do you react in certain situations? What do you value? The College Board designed its writing prompts to deliver these kinds of responses. Don’t fall flat by not delving into your soul to produce the kind of essays admissions officers seek. The best ones I’ve seen—and I’ve seen a lot—were eased out rather than cranked out. So don’t procrastinate!
Remember, it’s your story. I have worked with a good number of students over the years. I always clarify that the student is the writer; I’m just the “coach.” They can take or leave my suggestions because the essays are theirs. They own them. Sure, they’re showing them to the colleges, but they belong to the applicant. The essays, while certainly challenging, become less of a chore when students think of them as time capsules they’re leaving for themselves to look back on in 10 or 20 years to discover how they will have changed, and how they will have remained steadfast. Students who approach their essays in this way tend to produce more honest, introspective work—just what the admissions officers want!
It’s equally important to know what the admissions officers don’t want: boredom, bragging and bad writing (the three B’s!). Bragging and bad writing are fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll just focus on avoiding boredom for now.
The best way to keep from boring the admissions officer is to make sure your story is a good one. Don’t think essay; think story.
What makes a good story? It’s not just something that engages the audience. It’s something with a big hook at the beginning, some kind of conflict or challenge, and a resolution that makes the whole thing memorable. Some people compare telling a good story with telling a good joke. From the very beginning, you must know where it’s leading, or else you’ll kill the punchline. The same holds true with writing the college application essay. It must have purpose.
So if you haven’t started yet, get out there and find the writing prompt that beckons you. Delve into your soul. And remember: Don’t crank out your story; ease it out!
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