The Other Side of College Essays

Posted on May 28, 2009. Filed under: college admissions, College Advice, college applications, college counseling, college essays, education |

I’m looking at the other side of college essays – not the side the admission officers see, but the side the students write, what they write and how theysay it. So often we see guidelines on how to write the college essay.Directions like put it in the first person, make it creative, start with a grabber, finish strong, talk about you  and do this all in anywhere from 100 to 500 words.  Consultants, counselors and English teachers are the ones who read them in their infancy, the rough stage, just when the thoughts are brewing.  What I have seen and read is more authentic than the finished  version on the applications. For the most part these are 17 year olds whohave been taught in school how to write in the 3rd person, about the otherthing and rarely about themselves.  So, first there is the need to overcome that teenage insecurity, be humble, yet boast, sound confident and do all that in respectable English. I overlook the slang and instant messaging language so prevalent and work with students on extracting what I find so appealing about them. They all have it – that appealing thing. For some it is simply the way their closet looks and for others it is their personal experience of sitting together at a family meal. The good news is that these students are willing to open up with someone like me knowing that I do not evaluate, judge, grade or accept or deny them.  It is an honorable andtrusted relationship. I suppose what I see is what many admission officerswould like to – the rough cut so to speak. Unquestionably, once studentessays have been revised, edited and polished several times, they take on a new more formal look. Colleges are attempting to get the right look at students.  University of Michigan for example is attempting to have students think “outside the box” by posing ethical dilemma questions like, “Describe a setback or ethical dilemma that you have faced. How did you resolve it? How did the outcome affect you?  If something similar happened in the future, how would you react?” Tufts is taking a more scientific approach to student essays and applications, “The first question might not sound so different than those on a typical application essay, but this year’s questions will bedesigned and evaluated based on psychological research. Tufts officials hopeto better identify future leaders and predict college grades.”  So, even before the final essays get submitted, I am thoroughly impressed by the rough drafts – their subject matter, written quality, determination and yes immaturity of the students writing. I’m grateful I see that first draft.  It is authentic, the truth and apparently what the universities want.

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2 Responses to “The Other Side of College Essays”

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You might appreciate this advice on writing the college essay from this New York Times blog, written by the Connecticut College dean of admission: http://tinyurl.com/l4d8dv

Thanks for your comment – I do read & comment on The Choice Blog –


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