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September 1st, 2014

The MUSTS of College Application Essays

 

Our last two blog posts discussed the importance of college application essays and the pitfalls to avoid when writing them. Indisputable is their importance in setting students apart from the record number of applicants applying to college in the era of the Common Application. Also indisputable is that they can go horribly horribly wrong. Our next two blog posts will deal with what you should do when writing your common application essay.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that YOU must be the star of your essay. That’s right, whether the prompt is the University of Chicago’s “What’s so odd about odd numbers?”, Tufts’ “Why Tufts?” or the Common Application’s “Recount a time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?”, colleges want to know about you, your values and character. Your task, regardless of the exact prompt, is to tell a story about yourself that reveals who you are.

Your story or transformgrowth-aheadative event does not have to be Earth-shaking. You need not have sung at the Metropolitan Opera or performed relief work in Nicaragua by the age of ten. We all have our unique stories to tell and most of them are small and personal. How about that time you challenged your coach? Or let down your parents? Or let your friend copy your homework? Or refused to let him copy your homework? The smallest moments often make the best essays. And keep in mind that we often learn the most from our mistakes. Failures make great essay topics as long as they end positively with you having learned your lesson and grown from the experience. A few winning essays from Test Preps‘ former students deal with egging houses, learning to make brownies, getting kicked off of the soccer team for poor grades and realizing the importance of ironing clothes.

A good exercise is to read over the Common Application prompts and brainstorm possible essay topics for each. Think about events in your life that taught you a lesson, that helped you grow as a person. Whatever experience you decide to write about, you should be able to list 2-3 values and character traits that the experience reveals about you. In essence, try to recount a story about yourself that proved transformative and highlights your growth as a person.

 

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