The College Application Essay
Writing the College Application Essay
Writing the college application essays causes stress for both students and families. It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way.
Perhaps the most daunting challenge students face is writing reflectively about themselves. While they have been writing throughout high school, they have worked on persuasive essays, expository essays, and literary analyses, not reflective writing about themselves. So, when they have to write to prompts about themselves, they often suddenly become unsure of what is of value to share.
Parents often try to help but usually with an eye to having the student mention as many accomplishments as possible. English teachers often read essays and comment on form, grammar, or word choice but have little opportunity to accomplish more. Furthermore, since teachers are steeped in expository writing forms for class assignments, they often don’t provide the best advice to students, especially for the brief responses now required by the UC questions.
As with all things college, there is no one correct answer for what a student should write about or how the student should go about saying it. The appropriate content and form necessarily arise from the student, who must find her own voice and method.
Students, parents, and teachers should consider that the essay is the primary opportunity the student has to speak in her own voice in the application process. It is meant to complement the other application components. Consequently, the essay shouldn’t replicate what appears elsewhere in the application. It should, instead, reveal the student’s response to or transformation as a result of an experience.
Certainly, that experience likely appears elsewhere in the application but in a different form. The laboratory internship at Berkeley Lab appears on the activities list as dates and activities. What’s missing is the meaning of that experience for the student. That a student plays the violin isn’t unusual or, in itself, necessarily meaningful. However, if student has come to see all his successful endeavors in life through the lens of his mastering a musical composition with the judicious bowing of strings, sure placement of fingers, and immersion in technique and emotion, then he reveals a part of himself seen nowhere else on the application.
This is precisely what the essay supplies the admission readers. It refracts the individual into the consideration in a way no test score, no grade ever can. It offers the possibility of revealing thought, maturity, capability, compassion, and humanity.
Students are always best served when they remember the role these personal responses play in helping college admission officers see the individual behind the quantitative measures. It’s not so much to reveal that a student can write well or to explicate a serious reason a college should admit her as to give her the opportunity to tell her story her way. In this light, why wouldn’t it be fun?