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Sparks blog: The college essay: An essential story of you

The college essay: An essential story of you

by Mr. Michael Wagner

It is not a secret that of all the year groups out of school for the summer, the rising seniors have the largest burdens to carry. The reason for this is the amount of college application planning that needs to take place over the summer in preparation for submitting applications in the fall.

There are many parts of this process: assembling a college list, acquiring letters of recommendation, completing portfolios of community service activities, continuing to work and volunteer, and a host of additional tasks. And let’s not even talk about nervous parents bombarding them with questions!

However, I want to focus on one major task that plays a pivotal role in a student’s acceptance or denial from a university and that is – the essay.

What is your story?

A student’s essay is the main place for a student to express themselves in a manner that cannot be found within the application materials. When well written, it will provide the admissions committee an insight as to who you are and what unique qualities you possess as an applicant. I call it, What’s Your Story?

A whole new world

When the pandemic began to impact the world, one of the major ways for assessing college applications was affected: standardized testing. Students found themselves unable to register and sit for exams, exams started to be canceled, testing sites closed, and soon students found themselves in a whole new world. Confusion and fear began to set in. What would happen now that test scores were not going to be used as part of the process?

In the U.S., the student essay was pushed front and center. Not that the essay wasn’t considered an important part of the application process before, but now with standardized test scores unavailable, the essay became even more pivotal.

With change comes opportunity

As time progressed, it became clear that massive changes were beginning to take place. One by one, colleges and universities across the U.S. started adjusting and revising their application requirements. Many more became test-optional and test-blind.  Even now, with standardized testing options returning, many have continued this policy. Without exam scores to rely on, students learned quickly that their essays were of far greater importance.

Write without fear. Edit without mercy.

Tips for creating a strong essay

Regardless of whether you will be submitting standardized test scores, your essay is an important part of many applications.  Here are suggestions that you should consider when beginning to write your college essay:

1.     Start early. There is no better piece of advice for crafting a great essay than for the student to begin the process early. Summer is the perfect time for this.

2.     A good essay will go through multiple drafts.  Here is a good way to get started:

a.      For many universities, there will be essay prompts. Start by assembling the essay prompts and address them individually.

b.     Assemble bullet points that could be used in answering the prompt.

c.      Put some thought behind how you could answer each question.

3.     Write about something meaningful or important. You want to write something that is compelling to read.

4.     Answer the prompt. This may sound silly but too often students do this poorly or try to use a one-size-fits-all approach. Also, it cannot be a canned response about something the applicant wants to write about because it is easy.

5.     The essay should not be a repetition of information that is already included within your application. Your essay should provide the reader with a vision of your unique qualities. Make it your own.

6.     Your writing should be a reflection on what you have learned and experienced, and how you have changed as a person. It should not be a detailed, blow-by-blow, account of a situation. Do not bore your reader! They want to be drawn into an experience, a story.

7.     There should be several draft attempts at the writing of the essay. Read, edit, read again, adjust. The perfection of the essay should be a high priority. There is no greater emphasis: proofread, proofread, proofread.

8.     Have someone, at least one person (other than a parent) read and edit the essay. This person should be used more for grammatical review than judging the content and should have a strong command of the language.

9.     When completed, check it over, check it again, proofread it one more time; and when you think it is ready, read it one last time. Use a read-aloud function and/or editing applications, such as Grammarly, to review your work. Remember, this essay is one of the key factors in your acceptance or denial.

student at laptop

The world of college admissions continues to change. Lately, standardized testing has been deemphasized, and the importance of the college essay has increased as a result. The better you understand the critical role the essay plays in the application process, the more prepared you will be to create a high-quality, well-thought-out, and well-written essay.

Mr. Michael J. Wagner

Michael Wagner, MAED is a founder and the Knowledge Pilot for Launch Education.  Mr. Mike has assisted hundreds of students around the world on their college pathways