Essays for college admission – part I

After all the stuff I shared about how college admissions committees function, you begin to get the idea that the essay isn’t getting NEARLY as much attention as the stress levels on the subject would lead you to believe. That’s mostly true, but the truth is you never know how much your essay might influence the decision, positively or negatively, so it’s worth maybe a reasonable amount of stress.

There are, in very broad terms, two types of essay questions, specific topics and tell us about yourself. Specific topics range from what kind of tree you think is most similar to your disposition (Pine! No, maple! Maybe spruce?) to what kind of adversity you have overcome to reach this incredible point in your life.

Specific questions are tricky. Many students try to get crafty and answer the question they WISH had been asked. Resist this urge! You can always add additional information to your application (more on that later), but this is not the place to do so. Admissions counselors reading thousands of applications are looking for an answer to THAT question. When, instead of oak or elm, they get “boat” because you like to travel (or whatever) they may, as you hope, praise you for your creativity. Alternatively, they may just be annoyed that they can’t find the tree you picked as they are or so quickly moving through your documents, and now that you have annoyed them AND slowed them down, they will bear that in mind as they are making their presentation on your file to the admissions committee (shudder).

In other words, pick a tree, figure out something you overcame, select the person you most admire, or highlight your reading list – whatever hoop they are making you jump through, just do it. No, they likely have no good rationale for why they are using that question – stop thinking so much!

Next up – how to answer the most dreaded college admission question, “Tell us about yourself.” Be seeing you.


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