Universitas Blog

The Nitty Gritty: The College Application Essay Part Two

Saturday, August 10, 2013
[caption id="attachment_1122" align="alignleft" width="300"]college_essay_clip_image001 How about that?? You fill in the blanks and boom! Instant college application essay. Unfortunately, it isn't that easy.[/caption] Today is my 48th birthday and to celebrate, I'm going to continue my previous post on writing the college application essay.  While the last post was about the "big picture" of writing the college application essay, I'm going to post more "nitty-gritty", close to the earth stuff.  In other words:  the do's and the don'ts of the application essay. 1.  Watch your grammar and spelling.  This is really obvious stuff but people usually forget this because they're rushing to get the essay out after having delayed and procrastinated forever.  Have your English teacher or guidance counselor or an adult with good grammar and spelling look through your paper.  Good grammar and spelling won't, by itself, save  your ship but bad grammar and spelling will surely sink it.  A professor of mine once said "A great paper written with poor mechanics (grammar and spelling) is like serving a gourmet meal on dirty china."  I could not have said it better!  So take the time to have your masterpiece edited and re-edited...even if you're already a grammar guru.  An extra pair of eyes is always helpful in catching little misteaks (haha!) 2.  Make your essay something only you can write about.  What I mean here is that your essay should be personal.  Do not write about stuff that's already on your application like your grades, accomplishments, and activities.  You may, of course,  reference your school or school activities as background but the meat of the essay should be something about you.  Remember that one of the purposes of the essay is for the commitee to get to know you.  Don't write a generic essay about helping out with Ondoy victims...more interesting would be what you learned from corresponding with a Muntinlupa inmate sentenced to life in prison.  Make the essay personal!!   [caption id="attachment_1123" align="aligncenter" width="300"]lamb_sml Watch your spelling and grammar. A good essay written with poor mechanics is like serving a gourmet meal on dirty china. But if the gourmet meal includes lamb, I'd be willing to overlook the stained silverware. :)[/caption]    

3.  Avoid discussing your romantic or sexual experiences.  Remember the goal here is to impress the admissions counselor, not to make him/her uncomfortable.  Yes, I did say make the essay personal but not to the extent that the person reading it gets squeamish.  Similar topics to avoid:  discussing a volatile religious or political issue like same sex marriage especially if you feel particularly strongly about one side or the other.  The reader may not agree with you and subconsciously take it against you.  Same with talking about topics that imply an elevated social standing:  like taking that trip to Europe or volunteering in Thailand.  Admissions counselors take a dim view of what they might see as an application from a rich, spoiled, snooty little brat.  Oh and drop that idea about writing how you become a level 80 warrior on a video game.

[caption id="attachment_1126" align="aligncenter" width="284"]twilight Don't talk about your love life in your college essay. But even if you do, it's still a better love story than Twilight[/caption]  

4.  Avoid cliche topics like "What I Learned When  I Won (or Lost) the Basketball Championship".  What's wrong with that bittersweet story of your youth when you sank/missed the winning free throws to win the league championship?  Nothing.  Except it's everyone's bittersweet story of their youth.  You want to stand out in some way and not blend in the background noise of thousands of applicants clamoring to be heard.

5.  Keep your audience in mind.  You are not writing to the Queen of England so avoid stilted or overly formal language.  Think of your guidance counselor or English teacher as your audience, i.e. people who are friendly and willing to listen to your story but they're not your kid brother or sister that you can just write any old thing in any old way you want to.   [caption id="attachment_1121" align="aligncenter" width="265"]NARROW_YOUR_FOCUS_01 Sound advice.[/caption]   6.  Answer the question!  Read the prompts carefully and address them directly.  An old essay prompt went something like, "Talk about how a certain person or historical figure influenced your life".  A lot of essays went on to talk about the applicant's mother or father, a teacher,  or Jesus Christ.  That's all very nice but if you read carefully, it says to talk about the influence the person had in your life...not the person itself.  The colleges are not looking to admit Mom, Dad, your 3rd grade English teacher, or Jesus Christ, they're looking to admit YOU. 7.  Finally, don't procrastinate.   I know that I discussed this in the previous post but it bears repeating.  A good essay is never written...it is re-written.  Rewriting and editing takes time and the more of this you do the better the chances your essay will be quite good. Good luck with your essay.  Comments (and prospective college essays) welcome.

John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

johnsy@universitasph.com
+63 (917) 833-3825


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John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

johnsy@universitasph.com

+63 (917) 833-3825

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