Admissions Essays!

This time of year the question I get most often is, “What should I write on my essay?” This really means, “Is there some secret topic or style which, if only you would tell me, would get me into every school in the U.S.?”

Of course, deep down you probably know the answer: there is no single style, topic, trick, or joke that will change the admissions process. Even if you knew what a college was looking for, it might not help. For instance, say I told you that a school is looking for really funny students this year. This will be especially challenging since, sad to say, some of you are just not funny. But even for those of you with great wit, what if your evaluator has no sense of humor? It can happen! I’ve even met admissions counselors who don’t think I’m funny (clearly they need help).

Bottom line – there’s no big secret, but there are some basics that I find apply pretty much everywhere. Start out with understanding that each college receives thousands of applications from great students, all pretty much around the same date. There is a LOT to read in a very short period of time – so do what you can to make the job easy on them (so you can hope they will take it easy on you).

I always encourage students to try to keep their essay UNDER any length limits. Few schools will count, but longer is definitely NOT better (although if you’re just sending one paragraph or just a couple of sentences, you’re taking that approach too far).

Second and bigger issue: write well. Check for typos, and print, if using one of those old-fashioned paper applications, on clean paper. Don’t hand write unless you have BEAUTIFUL handwriting. For those of you applying online (THANK YOU!) you still need to proofread and review your work. Almost every application lets you save and come back before you submit. And if you write in a word processing package and then cut and paste, make sure it didn’t totally mess with your formatting.

Try to get two points across: why you should be at that school, and why you want to go there. The first is basically just bragging a bit about the contributions you can make as a student, but is also an important chance to let colleges know something about which you feel really passionate. The second is just good old sucking up. Remember, the person reading your application LOVES their school- so don’t forget to tell them that you love it too, and tell them why. If you can’t come up with two sentences about why that school is WONDERFUL for you, then maybe you’re wasting your time. For some ideas, check out the part of my blogs about picking a school.

Last note – when you personalize your application (“And there’s no place I’d rather be than George Mason University!”), be sure to get it in the right envelope/paste it into the right online application. Nothing encourages me more to hit the deny button faster than a student who tells me outright they want to go somewhere else!

A few other, far less entertaining, sites to check out:

And don’t miss this one for parents (which is particularly good, since I’m quoted):

As always, may you get in everywhere you apply, may you get every scholarship you seek, and may you all still pick Mason! Be seeing you,


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