The admissions cycle is just about to begin and questions have already been rolling in. So, to help you navigate this often nerve-racking time, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common do’s and don’ts for writing effective, successful admissions essays.
DON’T: Submit your statement without working on at least a couple drafts of it first. Edit your work. Even if you think your first (or even second) draft is a masterpiece — put it down and look at it again tomorrow. You are indeed your worst critic, but don’t put it off until the last minute. Submitting your first draft of anything will only amount to lots of regret, I promise. Even the most stellar students can get dinged over a poorly written statement. So, don’t be that guy.
DO: Show it to someone else. When writing, it’s very easy to miss even the biggest mistakes. Showing it to an editor, a professor, an advisor, or even a friend or colleague, can improve your essay enormously– they will often see errors that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. If you live on a deserted island or cave and really can’t find a single reliable person to read it for you, then read it out loud to yourself. Yes, you might feel weird doing it but, in actuality, reading aloud will often reveal mistakes in grammar and sentence structure are often not immediately obvious. While having someone else look over your work is the most advisable option, reading it out loud is still a much better option than not doing any of it at all.
DON’T: Be afraid to talk about yourself. As I’ve said in a previous post, your essay is the only chance an admissions counselor will have, outside of an interview, to see your true strengths and qualities as how you choose to showcase them. Given this, your job is to use your essay to present yourself and your qualities that would otherwise not be seen in your application. Don’t be afraid to allow the attractive aspects of your personality to show through; a compelling essay can mean all the difference between a ‘no’ and a ‘maybe’ or even a ‘yes’.
DO: Write about your traits and aspirations confidently. As I’ve discussed numerous times before, admissions counselors are searching for candidates who are not only studious but also mature and well-adjusted. They want to know that you’re ready for this next step and, to prove that you are, writing about yourself confidently is necessary. Never forget that your essay is, essentially, a logical argument (it is in fact a statement) so confidence in your own abilities and aptitude is key to making it effective.
DON’T: Write an overly general “Why X” essay just so you can reuse it. While it would certainly make your life easier, it would not make your application look any better. Admissions counselors go through thousands upon thousands of essays each year and many of them have been doing it for quite some time. So, their BS-detectors are pretty finely tuned, particularly to glossed-over generalizations that only vaguely suggest their schools. If there’s no way you have time to write an individually tailored “Why X” essay, then I would definitely suggest writing your essay on another topic. If a “Why X” essay is mandatory, then make the effort. You don’t want to risk being rejected for being lazy.
DO: Investigate what each school you’re applying to has to offer, and know why you want to go there, whether you’re writing a “Why X” essay or not. Regardless of why you’re applying to a particular school– because of its reputation, athletics, location, or programs offered– you need to have identifiable (and reasonable) grounds as to why you’d want to be there. Do your research. Even if you’re applying there as a “safety”, consider why are you choosing this school over any others. Of course, be sure to present your reasons with restraint– for instance, it’s one thing to be appreciative of a school’s Greek life but another to say you’re looking to get into a party school.
DON’T: Regurgitate your resume. Your statement can always include examples of work, school, and life experiences to illustrate just how serious, hardworking, and dedicated you are. However, this does not mean you can list experiences that are not relevant to your statement topic, just for the sake of including them. Your application already includes your resume, so there’s no need to list every position or internship held even if it doesn’t fit. If there’s a particular position or experience that you absolutely must talk about that you can’t seem to work into your statement, then consider reworking your topic so you can.
DO: Tell a story that illustrates your strengths, maturity, and talents. Following what I said above, it doesn’t have to include every position you’ve served or award you’ve received. Your statement can be an anecdote: a (small!) snippet of your life story, or a description of one particular experience you’ve had in school or work that is, yes, in your resume. Or, in the alternative, your statement can describe your work and school experiences if they are all part of a master plan to get you to this point. Regardless of how you choose to go about it, your statement should be one solid, cohesive argument that flows all the way through.