When the question is open ended (“Tell us about yourself.”), stress levels seem to increase. Bear in mind that no one knows for sure what any individual reader will want or get from an essay. That being said, I suggest you try to include two main points: Why the school wants to have you there, and why you want to go there.
The first is talking about what you will contribute to the campus. Many admissions officers (particularly those who act incredibly pretentious and uptight) will talk a lot about your “passion” – “we want to see that you have passion, what that passion is, how that passion will cause you to be successful and donate much money so we can place you and the name of your passion on big buildings.” It’s particularly encouraging when the admissions officer making this explanation is doing so with all the passion and enthusiasm you had on the way to take the SAT.
It seems to me what they mean is what you really care about/makes you special. For me, it makes sense to tie that into why you want to go to that particular place – how are you going to contribute to that community with your “passion” (clearly we don’t mean something that will get you listed on juicycampus.com). Most colleges will say that an intellectual passion tends to be more compelling. So computational neuroscience may be more impressive than “I like to help people,” which is probably still better than, “I like Manga comics and it’s all I really want to do.”
In your fanatic zest and zeal for some “passion” that will impress admissions officers, don’t forget to suck up. By that I mean that colleges really do want to know that you REALLY want to go there (more on how colleges use that factor in an upcoming post). This used to be time consuming, typing out each essay with a different college, but now can be as simple as merging in the right name for “and there’s no where I’d rather be than…” (be careful with those when you cut and paste – every year I get at least a few that say, “rather be than…Brown.” My immediate reaction is that I should grant them their wish NOT to go to Mason).
I suggest, however, putting a little more thought into this part of your essay. That doesn’t mean it has to be longer (DON’T make it longer!), but that you should try to include at least one or two reasons why it’s such a great school for you. You might say, for instance, “George Mason University is the school I want most because I want a place with a truly global outlook and to connect with opportunities to solve real world problems the way you can with an incredible suburban D.C. location,” or words to that effect. Warms the cockles of my heart. If you can tie that into your intellectual interests, so much the better.
Next, a little more insight on Do’s and Don’ts in your essay, then (finally) on to new topics. Be seeing you.