The College Admission Essay | Juniors, Listen Up!

I've read them all...  and even still, most college admissions essays put me to sleep. Sorry. 

I don't want to hear about your new appreciation for life after seeing how "the other side" lives in some shanty village by that resort you stayed in with your parents. (yawn)

I could care less about your grandmother, without whom you never would have been inspired to achieve excellence. (ho-hum)

Oh, and please don't even bother using the college admission essay to explain away erratic grades or poor test scores. (yikes)

So, which ones are the good ones? The ones that have me jumping out of my seat with hands in the air do the following:

  • They hook me... there's no way I'm only eating that one potato chip.
  • They humble me... a single moment in time changes the course of life.
  • They invite me... I'm given the keys to heart and soul.
  • They inspire me... and suddenly all seems good in the world.
  • They move me... I'll actually never be the same again after reading.

Tall order for a young mind? Perhaps.... But I don't make the rules. I can only show you how to use them to your advantage, or even bend them ever-so-slightly.

Winning college admissions essays, in my opinion? Here are two opening excerpts that stand out and have even earned direct handwritten praise from admissions officers on their acceptance letters:

1. A day in the life of an typical kid in a typical town with a not-so-typical role in his community:

I'm the one creeping around in your bushes as the sun sets. I'm the one spotted taking notes on the side of your house when nobody is home... I'm the water meter reader in zip code 02---.

This essay goes on to demonstrate the "dirty job, but someone's gotta do it" principle. Note that I stress ‘demonstrate...' the student used vivid imagery to show rather than tell the story. He gave examples of characters with whom he interacted, and ultimately left the impression that he's the guy you want in your community, on your campus. Guess what - it worked!

2. A self-proclaimed astronomy geek, who changes the mindset of his hockey teammates:

Busted! The hockey guys followed me from the rink to the observatory, finally discovering where I was spending my extra time. For a stretch I was the most ridiculed six-foot-four hockey player in the history of our school. That was until I decided to return the favor by bringing out the inner-geek of my teammates as well.

He continued on with this exhibition of humility. Ironically, his vulnerability induced an impression of both self-assuredness and impassioned pursuit. When he dragged his buddies to check out the stars and they actually enjoyed themselves in the end, he was transformed from closet geek into community leader... one who was evidently the object of desire for each admissions officer who read his essay.

For all of you high school juniors out there, keep these points in mind when you begin to dig in this Spring/Summer. And feel free to get in touch if you want feedback or specific strategies. We are launching a service in the coming weeks that addresses this critical college application component.

Tags: education trends, educational consultants, outcomes, college, admissions process, applying to college, college admission essay

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