Tag Archives: essay writing

Should I write a diversity statement?

Blank page. (From Birohi >H!ROK< on Flickr.)

Now that applications are fully underway, I’ve received tons of questions about supplemental essays.. Applications call for more than just a personal statement— often, a secondary “Why [insert school name]?” also known as a “Why X” essay, may be included. Also, students may need to include an addendum.

Another type of supplemental essay that is the diversity statement.  I describe in further detail how to write a successful diversity statement in a later post but, first, let’s break down what a diversity statement actually is.

Many of you already have the right idea: that it’s an essay that explains your diverse background or experience. But, there is some confusion after that.

You don’t have to an Under-Represented Minority (or, URM) to write one. There is a common misconception that a diversity statement should be about only ethnicity or race. It’s not. A diverse experience can be related to, yes, ethnicity and race, but it can also relate to your sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, religious belief, or age. It is more than just the color of your skin; it is about any circumstances or experiences that have made you outside the mainstream, different from the rest of the applicant pool. This also applies to your home life or household as well– whether you grew up in a non-English speaking household, an adoptive home, or any otherwise “non-traditional” household.

It’s up to you to decide what your diverse experience is. Again, what constitutes diversity is often misunderstood, so only you can be the best judge of that. But, here are some questions for you to consider, when deciding whether you should write one or not:

  • Did you have a diverse experience, background, or upbringing?
  • Does this background make you genuinely different and more diverse than others?
  • Did these experiences allow you to have a different perspective?
  • How has this diverse perspective changed your outlook? Your career and life goals?
  • How will this experience help diversify the student body? What about your experience can you bring to the table as part of the admitting class?

Carefully consider these questions. Now, there is one more important factor you must consider as well.

As an applicant, you want your application to be as competitive as possible. One of the ways to do so is to possibly include a diversity statement in your application packet. After all, you would not considering adding yet another essay on top of a long and arduous process if that was not the case. I’m glad you’re a kind of achiever that is willing to do the extra work, but, as an optional essay, there is a risk.

Diversity statements are not mandatory. As such, not including this optional essay will not detract from your application. Your application packet– the application itself, test scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement– can very well get you into the school that you want. It is perfectly possible for applicants to get in with only these items and plenty of applicants before you have gotten in without any supplementation or additional materials at all. The admissions package is designed to, at its barest bones, to do allow admittance– that’s why they are the required parts of the application over others.

A supplemental essay, by definition, is supposed to do exactly that– to supplement your application. It’s an opportunity for you to present yet another side to your personality to the admissions committee. And, it’s an opportunity for the admissions counselor to get to know you further and possibly find more reasons to admit you.

If your essay is well written, well-composed, and truly compelling, it will do all these things. However, if your essay is not, then you risk taking away from your own application. By presenting additional information, you’re giving them more to look at which, as I said, can work to your advantage. But, in doing so, you’re also giving them more written material to judge you on and, by nature, giving yourself more room for error.

This is why you must be particularly selective and careful with your decision. Just as you have to be selective with your recommenders, your statement topic, and your methods of LSAT studying, you also must be selective in the supplemental materials you provide.

If, when considering all these factors I’ve listed, you still feel uncomfortable or unsure, then don’t do it. You won’t lose out by not doing a diversity statement, but you can lose out by doing a bad one. If you find that you’re forcing yourself to write one, that awkwardness will be evident to the admissions counselor. Trust me– they look at up to thousands of these kinds of essays and forced, awkward writing is easy to pinpoint and with good accuracy, too.

I’m not trying to scare you, I promise. However, I do want you to be realistic– don’t write a diversity statement just to write one. Write one because, as a diverse person or one who can bring diversity to your prospective schools, you have something strong and meaningful to say. If you feel that you do and feel comfortable with the material enough to write about it, then by all means do so. This essay is supposed to serve not only as a supplement but as a complement  to your application package. If you treat it as such and write a genuine, well-meaning essay, then it will.

If, at the end of this exercise, you have decided that a diversity statement is the right choice for you, then check out my post on how to write one.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com

Common Grammar Mistakes: Active versus Passive Voice

A student recently sent me the following question: “My professor wrote ‘Do not use passive voice’ on their syllabus under the final paper requirements. Why is passive voice such a bad idea?”

I must say, passive voice does get a bad rap. Many people (professors and other writing educators, included) are adamant in their disapproval of the passive voice. In fact, many consider this to one of the many common writing rules everyone has to abide by. I will give you my opinion in a bit but, first, let’s go over what we actually mean by active voice and passive voice.

Active Voice

In the active voice the subject is doing an action– specifically, the action outlined by the verb. Since the subject is active in whatever the verb calls for, it’s referred to as the active voice. This is found in most English sentences.

An example of the active voice would be: Stefanie loves dogs.

The subject of this sentence — in this case, Stefanie— is doing the action: the subject is, in essence, doing the loving. The word dogs in this instance, is the direct object, the receiver of this loving. Again, since the subject is active in doing, this sentence is in the active voice.

Passive Voice

In the passive voice, these roles are reversed. The direct object moves to the subject’s position and, in turn, the subject becomes the direct object. This role reversal is interesting because the focus of the sentence changes, allowing for the subject to receive the action, while the direct object does what the verb describes. So, instead of the active “Stefanie loves dogs”, the sentence then becomes:

The dogs are loved by Stefanie.

In this instance, the subject, the dogs, aren’t active in doing anything. They are just sitting there as the direct object, Stefanie, does all the action– in this case, all the loving. Lucky them.

The passive voice can also be phrased like this: “The dogs are being loved by Stefanie.” This is also valid as it’s still in the present tense and the subject is still passive.

“So, is using passive voice wrong?”

Not necessarily. However, it can obfuscate your writing so it’s best to use it sparingly. The active voice is direct and (ideally) to the point– this is clearly the best for academic writing and admission essays. It’s encouraged to use the active voice because of its clarity and is a great way to make your writing tighter and more concise.

That being said, passive voice does well when writing reports, scientific studies, or anything else that requires objectivity over subjectivity. This is one of the major reasons why scientific studies and police reports are written largely in the passive voice– the writer has to be objective and not insert themselves into the work as a subject or, if the subject is unknown, hypothesize who or what that might be.

Passive voice can also be used creatively, particularly when writing fiction. The passive voice can denote a sense of mystery– “he was killed suddenly in the night,” for instance– and can also create suspense. This is also more reason why it shouldn’t be used in admissions or academic writing.

So, a few words of advice:

  • The active voice means the subject is active in whatever the verb is doing. The subject is doing whatever the verb says it is.
  • The passive is the opposite– it’s not doing it but, instead, receiving it. The direct object is the one doing the work.
  • Not every sentence in the passive voice has to have the verb to be in it. The verb phrase I am is a form of the verb to be which, as I’m sure you can figure out, is very much in the active voice.
  • It’s not necessarily incorrect to use the passive voice, but avoid it unless writing fiction, an objective report of some kind, or a scientific study.

 

Interview with LSAT Blog

LSAT Blog by Steve Schwartz

Steve Schwartz of LSAT Blog was kind enough to interview me earlier this week. In our interview, we discussed burnout (and how to fight it), diversity statements, and addenda.

Here is an excerpt from our interview:

2. Now, about supplemental essays. What do you tell your students about writing diversity statements?

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the diversity statement. Two of those are that:

1. Diversity statements is only for underrepresented minorities (URMs)
2. Diversity statements are mandatory.

Both of these statements are far from correct.

You don’t have to be an underrepresented minority to write a diversity statement. Similarly, diversity statements are not adversity statements, either. Anyone who feels that their background or upbringing has allowed them to have a more diverse experience can write one. This also goes for anyone who feels that, by being part of the representative admitted class, will bring diversity to the student body of their prospective school.

That being said, you don’t have to write a diversity statement. Yes, it can be a valuable asset to your application package, but it’s not mandatory and, therefore, isn’t necessary. If you are considering writing a diversity statement, be sure that you have something well-argued and genuinely compelling to say; it’s better to submit your application “as is” with its required materials than to submit an extra essay that is questionable or, worse, written poorly.

For all my dear readers out there applying for law school, LSAT Blog is one of the best resources for help with LSAT preparation on the Internet, hands down.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com

How to get unstuck while writing your personal statement: Part 3.

Just keep writing. (From smemon on Flickr.)

For those of you keeping up, I’ve been covering the last couple of weeks remedies to help with the personal statement writing process– a series entitled “How to get unstuck while writing your personal statement.” Part 1 dealt with unsticking yourself from the brainstorming process and Part 2 discussed how to become unstuck from proper outlining and structuring techniques. And, now, for Part 3, as the final installment:

If you’re stuck… and you’ve already written your first/second/umpteenth draft.

First of all, if you’re stuck while revising your draft and don’t know how you can go on, then you should probably stop… for a little while, at least. This means: stop writing, stop editing, stop working on your statement. Don’t look at it, don’t even think about it. Work on other parts of your application, continue studying for the LSAT, work on school assignments, whatever. Occupy yourself with other (productive!) things that are not your personal statement. Think of it as a personal statement abstinence.

The purpose of this is to give you some time off– starting at the same 500+ words will make anyone’s glaze over, and that is not how you want to review and edit your own statement. Burnout can cloud your mind and your eyes, allowing for stupid mistakes to happen. Simple grammatical mistakes and spelling errors can go unnoticed, and your whole argument structure can go woefully awry if you’re not careful and on your A-game.Taking time off is one of the few ways certain to prevent burnout and to relieve your stress at least for a short while. If you feel that you’re burnt-out already, taking time off is absolutely crucial.

Taking a break will allow you to refresh your perspective and interest, so that you can pull off the best final draft possible. A few days off will allow for more ideas to come to mind when you return to your statement, as well as for mistakes to surface when you read it over with renewed eyes. You’ll be able to immediately spot awkward phrasing, poor argument structure, grammatical error, and overall roughness. Provided that you’ve allowed yourself enough leeway to do so (and have the self-discipline to get back into it), taking time off is almost never a bad idea.

If you find yourself still stuck even after taking a break, then perhaps you need a refreshing brainstorming session. If you find that even after taking a short break you’re still having trouble, follow my advice in Part 2 of this series to start getting your wheels turning again.

By brainstorming, you can find and develop a new direction for your statement that will make it stronger. Brainstorming and outlining are not limited to just the beginning stages of writing– they can be used whenever you need to refresh your thought process, to further develop ideas or even generate new ones. This, of course, is always welcome, whether you’re at the beginning or end stages of your statement’s development. You want to always be active in your statement writing– not passive in the doldrums– when submitting such an important essay. Do whatever it is you can to keep your spirit up and to stay alert.

Of course, once you feel that you’ve exhausted all your own resources– you’ve done all the above and still feel at a loss, unable to add or edit anymore– it may just be about time to stick a fork in it. Granted, it is always a wise idea to give your essay over to someone for review and, in this instance, it is especially appropriate. You want an objective reader to confirm that you are truly finished and that nothing else needs to be added, fixed, amended, or changed. At times, such an objective reader is the only one to make that call as burnout can often masquerade as that “finally finished” feeling. But, at the same time, you are often your own worst critic and own worst slave-driver and someone else has to tell you to step away from your computer. So, use discretion when deciding to hit “submit,” but don’t be afraid to let go either.

How to get unstuck while writing your personal statement: Part 2.

Sometimes, you get stuck. (From photosteve101 on Flickr.)

Last week, I posted part one of the series “How to get unstuck while writing your personal statement,” where I covered how to unstick yourself when stuck choosing a statement topic. For Part 2, I’m covering what to do when you’re at the draft-writing stage.

If you’re stuck… and you have a topic, but can’t start your first draft.

Before beginning your draft, you want to ensure that:

  1. You have a solid argument.
  2. This argument is supported by relevant evidence– whether it’s anecdotal or describing relevant work or school experience.
  3. Your topic is explained thematically– meaning, it is a theme that runs through your statement/argument, connecting all your points.
  4. It ends solidly, tying off all ends, so that it is impossible to poke holes in your argument.

It’s a lot, I know. But, there is hope.

In a previous post, I covered how to organize your topic around a basic argument structure. Those basic principles can be used during the outlining process, which would then get you into a prime position to start writing your first draft.

The answers to all the points I’ve raised above can be seen during the outlining process. Laying out all your material at hand in bulleted points and organizing them in a structure will allow you to get a birds-eye view of your statement as a whole. Doing so will make assessing your statement that much easier, and will allow you to make the appropriate edits.

You’ll also be able to ascertain the weak points of your argument and fix them– whether it’s a certain point needs further explanation or to integrated better into your statement, or if you’re providing too much information and getting too far away from your argument.

Of course, the most brilliant thing about outlining is that it can help you get out of a creative rut. When outlining, you’re forced to think or even reconsider aspects of your topic in new ways, which can allow for new material. This is, in a sense, a more advanced method of brainstorming that can help get your juices flowing to start your first draft. Before you know it, you’ll understand your topic and your aim that much more clearly and will be able to start working on a successful first draft.

Next week, in the final part of this series, I’ll cover how to get unstuck when you’ve already written your first/second/fifteenth draft.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com

Common grammar mistakes: Dangling participles.

Common Grammar Mistakes: Dangling Participles. (From OptimumCareer on Flickr.)

As an editor, I have a number of literary and textual pet peeves. Surprisingly (or, perhaps not?), lolspeak is not one of them. But, in any case, some things just drive me and every other like-minded nerd insane. One of things includes dangling participles. To review, a participle is a verb pretending to be an adjective. Usually, this is a verb in its -ing form. For example, the word run is normally a verb, but add an -ing ending and it can become an adjective. So, when you say “I run every morning,” it’s a verb. But, it can also be an adjective: “I forgot my running shoes this morning.” The word run went from verb to adjective, which also forms your present participle.

So, now you understand participles. Good. Now, we move on to participial phrases.

Participial phrases are phrases that include, you guessed it, participles. These phrases are meant to modify the subject of the sentence. For example: “Drinking my coffee, I thought of an example of participial phrases.” Drinking my coffee” modifies the subject, “I,” with “drinking” as the participle.

Another example would be: “Stifling a yawn, I shuffled off to make more coffee.” “Stifling a yawn” is the participial phrase, modifying the subject, “I” (yet again). “Stifling,” of course, serves as the participle.

Okay, with all that said, dangling participles are participial phrases that are left with nothing to modify. Meaning, they are supposedly there to modify the subject, except the subject doesn’t agree with its modifier.

You might ask how this is possible. Well, here’s an example: “Drinking my coffee, the coffee-maker had shut off.” As you can imagine, this does not make sense. “Drinking my coffee” should modify… the coffee-maker? No. The coffee-maker is not drinking my coffee, I am. So, where am I? Hence, the reason these errors are called dangling participles– so sad and alone, without a subject to modify.

There are ways to fix this, of course. Instead of “Drinking my coffee, I noticed the coffee-maker had shut off.” Now, “drinking my coffee” is modifying the correct subject and–there I am!– the coffee is being drunk by me this time, not the coffee-maker.

One handy way to make sure you don’t make this mistake is to put a silent “while” before any participial phrases. So, “Drinking my coffee, I noticed the coffee-maker had shut off” becomes “While drinking my coffee, I noticed the coffee-maker had shut off.” Using the word “while” will emphasize what the modifying participle is doing, which will then remind you that the subject should agree with this action. If it’s more helpful for you to actually begin the phrase with “While…” rather than just with the participle, that’s fine, too. Just be mindful of who is doing what and what should be modifying whom.

So, to be clear:

“Drinking my coffee, I noticed the coffee-maker had shut off.” This is good.

“While drinking my coffee, I noticed the coffee-maker had shut off.” This is also good.

“Drinking my coffee, the coffee-maker had shut itself off.” This is bad.

“While drinking my coffee, the coffee-maker was gone.” Even worse.

 

 

 

 

How to get unstuck while writing your personal statement: Part 1.

Hit a wall? (From hryck on Flickr.)

So, you’ve been working on your personal statement. You’ve brainstormed, you’ve outlined, You might even be done with your first draft. But… you’re not getting anywhere.

It’s okay if you feel a little stuck– it happens to everyone. And, people get stuck at all different points of their statement-writing process. So, I’ve written this helpful guide-series that will show you how to get unstuck, whether you haven’t chosen a topic, are hammering out your first draft, or trying to nail down your final draft. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be covering different points of typical “stickiness” and how to get unstuck from them.

If you’re stuck…. and you don’t have a topic yet:

If you’re in the very beginning stages of just formulating your topic, it’s best if you start with some brainstorming or outlining before beginning your draft. Even if you do have a topic, it’s often helpful to still brainstorm to help tweak your topic and refresh your writing muscles (and your mind).

Start thinking about how your experiences have molded and shaped you. How did your experiences during undergrad shape your maturity and understanding? If you’ve been out of school for a while, how did your later positions shape you? What sort of trajectory has your life taken thus far? What has brought you to this point? Consider your answers– how will these affect you in the future, as a law student? As a working attorney?

I’ve posed these questions to coax out a potential argument about,the wealth of material you have scattered in your resume and in your mind. The problem may well be that you have so much to choose from, it’s overwhelming. I know the temptation exists to start to work on a draft right away and, if you really feel comfortable doing this, try. However, think about what I’ve just asked here while you brainstorm– just start writing down what comes to mind in a brief, bulleted list, without the pressure of putting it into a formal draft. Think a bit and see if you can come up. Write down everything you come up with; your material, somehow, has to directly relate to you and your experience.

Then, read over and evaluate what you came up with. See how you can make this all work, and how this relates to you. Do you feel comfortable with it? Can you take it further? You may end up going through many cycles of the above process- twice, three times, you name it. Regardless of how many times you brainstorm, it’s important that you do it. By brainstorming and even brainstorming repeatedly, you will inevitably come up with something good, something you can work with, and something you can write about well.

Next week, I’ll be covering how to get unstuck when writing your first draft, part 2.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com

Common grammar mistakes– Lay versus lie.

In many of my grammar posts, I often discuss common but misused words like it’s versus its or I.e versus E.g.. So, for this week’s installment, I’ll be covering the differences between lie and lay, probably the most misconstrued of all.

The most barebones difference between lie and ‘lay’ is that ‘lay’ requires a direct object. Going back to third grade, direct objects follow transitive verbs or action words. They are the “what?” and “who?” of the “subject+verb” equation. As in:

Jenny(subject) + played(verb)+WHAT?” Answer, soccer (direct object).

So, lay needs something or someone to do the laying– for instance, “Lay your book on the table.” Of course, as a command, the subject is the invisible ‘you’ and the sentence can be diagrammed as follows:

(You, subject) + Lay(action verb) + your book (direct object) +on the table (prepositional phrase, but more on this later)

Lie, on the other hand, does not require a direct object. So, if you want to lie down on the couch, you’re free to do so. Please note: “on the couch” is NOT a direct object (yet another prepositional phrase, more on that later) as the couch is not doing the lying down, you are the one doing it. Okay, get up now.

Sounds easy, right?

Here’s an easy way to remember:

Fans of older music will be shocked to know that both Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton are wrong: “Lay, lady, lay” should be “Lie, lady, lie“, and “Lay down, Sally” should be “Lie down, Sally”. Yet, Kelly Rowland, in all her pop-princess glory, is totally right with “Lay it on me“. Well, that’s music for you.

The present participles of these verbs aren’t so bad, either. As a reminder, participles are part of the perfect tenses– they are the latter half of verb phrases with am, has/has been, and have/have been in them.

The present tense of lie is lying— as in, “I’m lying down on the couch right now; it’s pretty awesome”. Or, “He’s been lying on the couch for a while, he must be lazy.”

The present tense of lay is laying, which is pretty straight forward. One example is: “She has been laying her coat on my chair every day since she’s moved in.” Or, for special occasions, you can say: “The Golden Goose has been laying golden eggs again!” This works because the golden eggs serve as the direct object in this sentence; it’s a different definition, but the same rule applies.

Okay, here comes the really tricky part.

The past tense of lay is laid. The past participle of lay is also laid. Too easy.

But, the past tense of lie is lay. Not so easy. And, a little ridiculous, if you ask me. To make it a little more difficult, the past participle of lie is lain. Ugh.

(To refresh your memory: the past participle is used to form the perfect tenses–I.e, the verb phrases that have has, have, and had in them.)

Laws of language aside, it is what it is. Your job though is to remember it. I don’t have any funny or stupid-yet-oddly-helpful ways to remember it, so just memorize it. Sorry, guys.

Here’s how to conjugate both lie and lay in the past tense, with examples::

LIE

  • Present tense: Lie

I lie in bed at night, thinking about dinosaurs.

  • Past tense: Lay

Yesterday, I lay there thinking about them, too.

  • Past Participle: Lain

And, the night before last, I also had lain in bed thinking about them. I may have a problem.

 

LAY

  • Present Tense: Lay

I lay my coat on this chair, usually.

  • Past Tense: Laid

Earlier, I laid my coat on this chair  But, it’s not there.

  • Past Participle: Laid

Oh, I forgot I had laid my coat on the bed instead. Fail.

Easy? It can be when working with present tense, but it can get confusing when using the past tense. Unfortunately, the only way to learn how to do this properly is by memorizing these rules. But, it gets easier with practice, don’t worry. Soon enough, you’ll be laying and lying all over the place.

Common grammar mistakes– E.g versus I.e.

Common Grammar Mistakes: E.g. versus I.e.

In the world of Internet slang, abbreviations have become the norm. While it’s hard to argue what FWIW or IAWTC mean, E.g and I.e are confused for one another all the time. Of course, these two abbreviations are infinitely older than netspeak as they both have Latin origins. But, despite this and their importance in academic writing, their usage is often misconstrued.Too often are they used interchangeably when they really shouldn’t be.

“So, what do they mean?”

I.e is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase id est, which can be roughly translated to “it is” or “that is”. E.g. is an abbreviation for exempli gratia, or “for example”. You can see where I’m going now.

I.e.  is used to specify or to further clarify a particular. For instance, you would use I.e. to say “I like editors who from New York– I.e., Stefanie Arr” to mean you like only me out of all the editors from New York. (Right?) If that wasn’t so obvious, here’s a better example: “Stefanie Arr is from the big city– I.e., New York.” This is correct because I am from only one big city– New York– and I.e. introduces this clarification.

E.g. is used to give an example or an instance. So, if you say “I like bloggers who write useful advice– E.g., Steve from LSAT Blog“, then you’re saying that you like bloggers who write about useful things, such as Steve, but aren’t limiting your list to just Steve (because I should be included, too.)

A helpful way to remember what each of these abbreviations mean is to use thise easy, if not cheesy, tip: E.g. can be remembered by thinking of it as “egg zample”– like “example” but with a strange, foreign accent. Or, you can take the more mature route and remember that  “E” stands for example.

The way to remember I.e. isn’t so weird a memory trick, but it’s just as useful: just imagine I.e. stands for “in essence”. Or, take the “I” to stand for “in other words”.

“Okay, so what now? How do you use them?”

Well, you can these abbreviations in a number of ways. They are usually used in parenthetical statements, but you can also use them as separate clauses, preceded by a dash (–) or a semicolon (;). You can also use them to introduce either an entirely new sentence. Given what these abbreviations mean, you can use them however you would normally use “in essence”/”in other words” or “for example”.

Easy, right?

Now, here are two last things to note:

  1. Always follow these abbreviations with a comma. So, whether you use them in the middle of a sentence or to start off a new one, always use a comma afterwards, like this “E.g., …”
  2. Don’t italicize them. I italicized them above because I was defining them but, in normal usage, they don’t have to be. This is according to a number of grammatical authorities, including The Chicago Manual of Style.

 

Personal Statements: Do’s and Don’ts.

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.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com