It’s that time of year again with college applications just around the corner. I have been working all summer with students on their UC application essays, as well as the Common App and Ivy essays. I want to highlight three tips that will go a long way to make your essays stand out.
If you are talking about leadership qualities do not make it all about you. “I did this, then I did that, then I did this, then I did that.” In many ways, this prompt is a trick question — not because it’s a deliberate trick — but because students often believe they need to show how smart they are at the exclusion of everyone else. This is the last thing colleges and universities want. Certainly, toot your own horn if you did something commendable, but be sure to frame it in the correct manner. Two correct frames are:
- Teamwork! I cannot stress enough that colleges respect teamwork above all else and want to see how you operate as a team member. Share the load, delegate, but do not micro-manage. Do not do everything yourself. Yes, you might have an idea but then brainstorm and be sure to give credit where credit is due. This is the sign of a true leader.
- Admitting to failure. Truth be told, colleges are inordinately interested in failure and what you did to remedy it. Owning up to your mistake and finding a way to fix it shows humility ,grit and determination, and is also the sign of a strong leader who is not afraid to admit when something went south..
Don’t make the essays academic! Application essays are not academic essays. Say that twice. These essays need to be conversational. Most of the time they are read by the admissions office, so in other words, a regular mom or dad, not an astrophysicist. Your grades and any extra-curricular activities already in the application highlight your academic and/or subject chops. You don’t need to do a deep dive down the rabbit hole explaining the quantum this or the DNA driven result from numerous tests. If you’re trying to show how brainy you are with all sorts of jargon that only people within the discipline know, or if you wish to delve into some pseudo-deep philosophical analysis, you’re guaranteeing the reader will come out of it glassy-eyed. There’s also the big chance you might come across as an annoying know-it-all.
The secret to a strong application essay is connecting with the reader on an emotional and personal level. Again — keep it conversational. I always tell my students, pretend that your sitting across from someone having coffee. They’re asking you about your internship or your volunteer gig. How would you explain it to them?
Do not create a laundry list. This means do not just repeat everything written in your extra-curricular section — you know, the part they already read-– and oops, here you are listing it all again. Let me tell you, the UCs have publicly stated they hate the laundry list approach. Instead, if you want to note your accomplishments, for instance, in the Major or Academic Subject Personal Insight — simply add a sentence along the lines of, In addition to numerous internships, I …