This information is based on information found in The College Application Essay by Sarah Myers McGinty, and from tips found at www.collegeboard.org
Ten DOs and DON’Ts for Your College Essay
Unite your essay and give it direction with a theme or thesis. The thesis is the main point you want to communicate.
Before you begin writing, choose what you want to discuss and the order in which you want to discuss it.
Use concrete examples from your life experience to support your thesis and distinguish yourself from other applicants.
Write about what interests you, excites you. That’s what the admissions staff wants to read.
Start your essay with an attention-grabbing lead–an anecdote, quote, question, or engaging description of a scene.
End your essay with a conclusion that refers back to the lead and restates your thesis but in a different way.
Reread, revise, reread, and revise.
In addition to your editing, ask someone else to critique your essay for you.
Write clearly, succinctly.
Don’t include information that doesn’t support your thesis.
Don’t start your essay with “I was born in…,” or “My parents came from…”
Don’t write an autobiography, itinerary, or résumé in prose.
Don’t try to be a clown (but gentle humor is okay).
Don’t be afraid to start over if the essay just isn’t working or doesn’t answer the essay question.
Don’t try to impress your reader with your vocabulary.
Don’t use a hundred words when ten will do.
Don’t rely exclusively on your computer to check your spelling.
Don’t provide a collection of generic statements and platitudes.
Don’t write what you think the admissions committee wants to read.
Don’t give mealy-mouthed, weak excuses for your GPA or SAT scores.
Don’t make things up.
Don’t fail to carefully proofread your final version. Check spelling, grammar and punctuation. Your essay should be flawless in this respect as it shows the level of your education.
There’s a big difference between simply stating a point of view and letting an idea unfold in the details:
|Consider the examples below:|
Okay: “I like to be surrounded by people with a variety of backgrounds and interests”
Better: “During that night, I sang the theme song from Casablanca with a baseball coach who thinks he’s Bogie, discussed Marxism with a little old lady, and heard more than I ever wanted to know about some woman’s gall bladder operation.”
|Compare the examples here:|
Okay: “I want to help people. I have gotten so much out of life through the love and guidance of my family, I feel that many individuals have not been as fortunate; therefore, I would like to expand the lives of others.”
Better: “My Mom and Dad stood on plenty of sidelines ’til their shoes filled with water or their fingers turned white, or somebody’s golden retriever signed his name on their coats in mud. I think that kind of commitment is what I’d like to bring to working with fourth-graders.”
|Need Ideas to begin? Read the following:|
How to Kick-Start Your College Essay
The hardest part of writing a college admissions essay is just getting started.
Here’s a quick exercise to get pen to paper (or keyboard to computer).
Step 1: Think about yourself
What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your best qualities? Are you a plugger? An intellectual? A creative type? Curious? Passionate? Determined?
Step 2: Choose a positive quality you’d like to convey to the admissions committee
Don’t pick an event or something you’ve done. President of the Nuclear Awareness Club is not a personal quality. Focus on a quality of your mind or of your character. Complete this sentence: “I am a very _________ person.”
Step 3: Tell a story
Set a timer for 20 minutes. Pretend you’re taking an exam at high school and responding to, “Tell a story about an experience or time when you showed you were a very _________ person.” Use the characteristic you identified in Step 2. Write or type non-stop for 20 minutes; force yourself to keep telling the story and what it reveals until the timer goes off.
Okay. That’s it. You’ve got a rough draft for your college application essay. Look at the college application forms and see what questions they ask. No matter what the questions are, you’ve already identified the important characteristic you want to convey to each college.
Email your rough draft to your peer editor right away. If you haven’t yet been assigned a peer editor, please contact your English teacher immediately.
The text and sample essays that follow were downloaded directly from http://www.accepted.com/college/sampleessays.aspx)
We are providing sample essays to stimulate your creative juices. As you read them, please note the individuality that flows from each one. Also please note the effective use of a clear theme, an engaging opening, and a conclusion that ties up the essay. Hopefully when you finish reading them, you will feel a tiny bit like you met someone, maybe even someone you would like to meet again.
Essay 1 — While the World Sleeps
When I wake up to the ear-splitting sound of my alarm clock, and blindly search for the snooze button, a sudden thought dawns: “What am I doing?”
The time is 5:30 AM; all is dark and hushed. My weary body feels completely drained of energy. While straining to open my eyes, still warm and snug in my comfortable bed, I am overcome with a feeling of lethargy. “Perhaps I should call in sick.” Despite all my musing, and my bed’s magnetic pull, I still manage to rise each morning at this ungodly hour to join the cross-country running team in rigorous training.
Cross-country running, a sport that requires the fusing of body and mind, strives to maximize your physical ability by testing your mental tenacity. Everyday represents a new struggle to beat yesterday’s maximum output, an issue of mind over matter. I have known the agony of this conflict since I joined the newly established cross-country team. As convincing as my morning doubts are, I do not heed them. Through pains and sprains and through adverse weather and unfavorable conditions, I run because I made up my mind three years ago to succeed.
With amenities such as cars and buses, I have no pragmatic reason to use my feet, especially if I lack a destination. I do not run to the gym to acquire a stylish figure, for my slender frame does not require it. And this grueling run differs from a relaxing jog to a coffee shop. I am pushing myself constantly to run faster and farther, for my team as well as for personal glory. Somehow with tireless effort and unflagging commitment, I run through the sleeping streets of my neighborhood with the awareness that I am steadily reaching my goal-maintaining the discipline that cross-country demands. In my mind I see a victory line that symbolizes the results of perseverance and hard work. This line makes me realize that ambition and tenacity do not go in vain. And it constantly reminds me that all those morning in which I struggled to leave my cozy cocoon have allowed me to fly.
While the world slept, I, Jane Smith, was awake and working hard to attain my goal. I feel more confident now, that on the road of life, when others may be walking, I will be running. I will run through ankle injuries and through fatigue. I will endure the inevitable hills and valleys. I will endure, and I will achieve.
Essay 2 — Rite of Passage
“Sarah, we need your help in the Ukraine this summer. Can I count on you?” This question changed my life profoundly. I was asked to be a counselor on JOLT, Jewish Overseas Leadership Program, an opportunity to interact with young campers in an impoverished country and positively influence their lives. Little did I realize that this experience would impact mine so greatly.
JOLT, an outreach program, runs an annual overnight summer camp in the Ukraine with counselors from the United States and Israel. These counselors are carefully selected because of the rigorous programming and the many physical hardships of living in the Ukraine. Over one hundred local children come to Charkov to learn about their Jewish background. As one of the counselors, I had the privilege and extraordinary task of exposing them to the beauty of our religion and heritage.
I remember the anxiety and excitement that I felt as I exited the plane with twenty other high school students, embarking on my summer teaching experience, wondering if I was fully prepared. The moment the busloads of children arrived, I attached myself to a group of kids and started singing and dancing with them. Despite my initial fears, we began to form a bond. My role changed from that of a teenager to that of a responsible counselor. Not only was I here to teach them about Judaism through classes and activities, but more importantly I was acting as a role model. For the majority of Ukrainian children, we were the first Americans they had ever met and, therefore, were watched vigilantly and constantly emulated. This humbling realization made me feel rather self-conscious at first. However, their desire to imitate also heightened the impact of that which we taught them. They wanted to learn. Although an immense language barrier lay between the campers and me, we managed to communicate through translators, hand signals, songs, and broken English and Russian.
With the help of a book that contained both the Hebrew and Russian, I taught Hebrew to a group of ten children who had never before been exposed to Judaism. Glieb, a ten-year old boy rapidly rose to the top of the class. In addition to the mandatory hours of daily learning, he was motivated to extend these sessions. So often at night after the fun and entertainment, he and I would practice reading Hebrew and we discussed, in simple terms, aspects of Jewish ritual that fascinated him. It was with Glieb that I formed the deepest bond, one that relied not only on talking, for he spoke only a minimal amount of English, but rather on demonstrating our fondness through actions.
A few days before the end of camp, in broken English, Glieb explained that he had been working endlessly on a present for me. Similarly I had been trying to decide on something that I could give him. After hours of pondering, I decided to give Glieb what was most dear to me, my siddur (prayer book), which I had received upon entering sixth grade. I felt it appropriate to present him with his very first prayer book. For hours I decorated and transliterated the main prayers and on the last day of camp, before the kids left, we exchanged presents. He gave me his favorite key-chain of the “Sylvester” cartoon with an attached lanyard that he had made. Never had a gift had such a startling effect on me; I burst into tears. I handed him my siddur, and he stood there for a moment staring at his gift, and I at mine. Tears welled in his eyes as he continued to look at the siddur. I knew that he truly understood the significance of our exchange. We hugged goodbye, and I will never forget the feeling of his arms entwined around me with the siddur pressed against my back.
Who would have thought that I would go to the Ukraine, make such a strong impression on the lives of a group of children and impact my own? The campers’ naïve yet deep questioning took me on a journey of self-discovery as I reexamined my own beliefs and practices in a foreign environment, spiritually void and materially deprived. This defining experience also taught me that I can make a difference. By continuing to work with people in my professional life as a nurse, I will be extending the passions I discovered during my summer experience. Just as I answered the call for help in the Ukraine, I intend to respond to future calls for help — with action, kindness, and caring.
Essay 3 — Summer Camp Entrepreneur
The first wedding that I planned was in no way a traditional wedding. Ten eager little girls decorated the printed invitations with sequins, buttons, and markers. The same energetic hands prepared the wedding feast, consisting of bagged lunches, blintz soufflé, and of course a layer cake. On the big day I looked around with excitement. Again, I noticed something odd about this wedding. All the participants and guests appeared about four feet high. The “groom” had long hair pinned up with brown lines on her face (was that supposed to be a beard?) The wedding location, a back yard with a swing set and a wading pool, seemed far from romantic. This wedding however was not supposed to be one of those types of weddings. As I pressed the “PLAY” button on the tape recorder I knew that ten 4-6-year-old girls cared deeply about this wedding. Despite the absence of a reason for celebration, I pulled all the girls into the circle and we started dancing and clapping to the music. The energy that went into the preparation on previous days could finally be appreciated. My campers and I not only celebrated the accomplishment of the mock wedding, we celebrated the fun and excitement we experienced for the first three weeks in Camp Glitter Girls. I had begun preparing for Camp Glitter Girls over four months before by budgeting, sending out fliers, confirming registration and finally making sure that every camper would have the time of her life. As I danced, I celebrated the times I almost lost my patience but didn’t, the times that I planned activities late into the night because I knew that only an organized schedule would ensure the success of my camp.
The lessons I had learned from previous summer camps contributed greatly to this camp’s success. At the age of thirteen, I first ran a camp for eight children. The next year a friend and I co-managed a camp for twenty children at a small school campus. Finally at the age of fifteen I created my most challenging summer camp with thirty-five children. In just three years the size of my camp tripled and so did the life lessons. I not only carried the responsibility for my own “bunk,” but with my co-manager I hired other counselors, arranged busing to and from field trips, managed a $15,000 budget, and ensured that thirty-five children had a fun summer. The overnight to San Diego, water fun, cheers, a carnival to end the summer and many other events definitely ensured that my campers had a great summer. However, at the end of those six weeks, new ideas floated in my mind about how I would manage a camp next time.
The camp’s increased size added new dimensions to management. On one occasion I firmly reminded a mother of her financial obligations to the camp when she started bargaining. When counselors failed to perform as expected I was required to separate friendships and business. With a much wider variety of campers, I dealt with behavioral problems among the campers. This even included involving the parents in the case of two unusually unruly boys. While a troubled girl with attention deficit disorder in my “bunk” needed special attention, I had to make sure that none of my other campers felt slighted in any way. As the summer progressed I learned how sometimes I just have to put my foot down and say “no.” Sometimes extra attention is not always best for a difficult child. Most importantly, I had an experience in the real world of business that taught me how to stand up for myself and address interpersonal and administrative problems.
This past summer as I looked around the yard at the beaming faces flushed from dancing, I realized that Camp Glitter Girls was the culmination of all the experiences and lessons in which I partook since my first camp four years earlier. I learned how to make a camp with ten campers far more fun and even more profitable than a camp for thirty-five children. Instead of marketing to a broad range of ages, I marketed Camp Glitter Girls to a specific age group of girls. The smaller group facilitated a close and familiar atmosphere, not to mention a decrease in problems. Instead of focusing on the quantity of campers, I focused on the quality of my campers’ experience, and we all reaped the benefits. The mock wedding at my previous camps never exuded the energy and spirit of the one at Camp Glitter Girls. As the dancing subsided and I heard oohs and aahs over the cake, I looked at every single girl in the room. I did not just see cute adorable faces; rather I saw how each girl challenged me in her own way and unconsciously taught me her own special lesson.
As I turn towards my future and make life-defining decisions, I look back upon my experiences with my campers for inspiration and direction. I view my upcoming years at university as an opportunity to further use the skills I acquired in running summer camps. The diversity, academic excellence, and broad array of classes and extracurricular activities at UCLA will provide an environment that will challenge me to use the leadership, initiative, creativity and interpersonal abilities that I used at Camp Glitter Girls.