"I once heard one [essay-writing] professional brag about slipping in mistakes to throw off admissions officers," he says.
"That's just disgusting."Rule #1: When Tackling a Global Issue, Make it Personal Brown Freshman Nawal Traish could have chosen to write about U. relations with Libya or general unrest in the Muslim world.
Instead, she speaks to her personal relationship with Libya, her father's homeland, and her own understanding of her Islamic faith.
"It's a mistake for students to think that they have to come up with any deep or life-altering topic," says University of Virginia's Greg Roberts, who expects to read essays this year on Afghanistan, health care, and other hot political issues.
Instead, Roberts advises, "It's OK to take on serious topics, but tell us how it relates directly back to you." ( Click here to read Nawal's essay.)Rule #2: Show That You Have Some Perspective Hallie Jordan knew not to pretend she'd had a hard-knock life with no options.
So The Daily Beast tracked down seven college admissions essays that did work—seven essays that helped get the kids who wrote them into one of the country's top schools.
The essays were slipped to us by college professors, high-school guidance counselors, independent admissions consultants, and even staffers at student newspapers.
For confidentiality reasons, admissions officers can't talk about these essays expressly, so we chose essays that demonstrate the most salient principles to abide by when writing them.
(Scroll down to read the essays, unedited and in full.)You'll need the help: Competition at these schools is fiercer than ever.
For every kid who’s hung prayer flags on a mountain summit in Tibet, there are a dozen others who’ve studied a Bantu language in Rwanda, worked with Guatemalan orphans, cooked with a celebrity chef, or been on reality TV.
With early application deadlines upon us, guidance counselors, professors, and admissions consultants slipped Kathleen Kingsbury seven essays that helped get kids into top schools last year—and she examines exactly what they did right. These are a few topics on independent consultant Arun Ponnusamy’s list of what not to write about in your college application essay.
What you learned about poverty on your $9,000 trip to Africa.
(A few more: Don't write about mom and dad's divorce, and no general philosophizing—you're 17, get over yourself.) Admissions season is under way, and with early applications deadlines starting November 1, you've only got a few more days to polish your make-or-break essay.
Straight As and stellar SAT scores won't be enough.
In a year where 10 brilliant kids are vying for every one slot at your average Ivy League school (yes, that statistic is accurate), the personal essay has become a tipping point that can turn a deferral into an acceptance letter.
Be as descriptive as possible about the moment you're writing—we want to see it, smell it, touch it." ( Click here to read Isabel's essay.)Rule #4: Make Sure You're the Hero of the Story By emphasizing her own personal challenges and then showing how she wouldn't allow them to subsume her, Hannah Edwards was able to make herself look good without bragging.
"It's fine to talk about your dad being a coke fiend or your stint in rehab with your favorite WB crush," Ponnusamy says, "but unless you end up as the 'hero' in the essay, you will have done nothing to help you and it's the one place you're guaranteed to have the opportunity to speak in the first-person." ( Click here to read Hannah's essay.)Rule #5: Make Your Intellectual Curiosity Clear Rahul Kishore wanted Cornell to know how obsessively devoted he was to science, and his essay describes in great detail his fascination.
"Talking about something meaningful can make you more likeable," says independent college consultant Stephen Friedfeld, "but it has to be executed to demonstrate your academic rigor." ( Click here to read Rahul's essay.)Rule #6: Know Your Audience Morgan Doff wasn't applying to a Christian school or one in an area that might take offensive to her lack of interest in religion, so she put it right out there on the page.
"Students regularly conjure up who admissions officers are, what they look like and what they're interested in," says Pomona's Bruce Poch.
"We purposely have a diverse staff with a variety of interests and backgrounds." That said, had Morgan been applying to, say, a school in the Deep South, she might have chosen her words more carefully.
"To be honest," says Ponnusamy, "if you're thinking about the most selective of schools in the country and the most interesting thing in your life is your parents' divorce, you're not going to get in anyway.”But even if your life hasn't been filled with experiences worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, you can salvage an essay about a ho-hum subject by having a novelist's eye for detail.
For Greg Roberts, the admissions dean at University of Virginia, one of the most memorable essays he read was about a single at-bat in a high-school baseball game.
The applicant wasn’t the star of the team, Roberts remembers, and didn’t even like playing baseball much.
“But he talked about being nervous and excited at the same time, about how the freshly cut grass reminded him of his grandfather,” Roberts says.
“I just felt like I knew him.”Roberts worries that students tend to be too conservative with essays and are afraid to take risks.
“There are no wrong answers here, and the last thing you want is a dry or boring essay,” he says.
“We have 22,000 applications, so it’s easy to blend into the crowd.”This year that may mean students want to reconsider before giving their take on the recent financial meltdown or the national health-care debate.
At California’s Pomona College, the admissions staff anticipates an influx of essays on the economy, similar to what they saw post-September 11, 2001, when nearly half the applications essays dealt with the terrorist attacks.“But it’s a different story if you watched the towers collapse from science class at [New York City’s] Stuyvesant High School than if you live on a farm in Iowa,” Pomona’s admissions dean Bruce Poch says.
“Families are going through hell right now, and it’s the very personal experiences that will resonate the most.” Then again, Poch adds, “Sympathy isn’t the only reason we let kids in.”Despite what admissions guidebooks tell you, there's no surefire formula to the college essay.
Poch confesses even a small error or two will not necessarily kill your chances of getting in—as long as it's not on purpose.
If you're a white, middle-class kid, it never hurts to show that you realize how lucky you are—and that you sought out diversity.
"I remember in the days after [Hurricane] Katrina, I had an otherwise thoughtful and engaged kid sitting across from me bemoaning how the kids in New Orleans were 'going to have awesome essays,'" says Ponnusamy.
"This sense amongst upper-middle-class kids that 'nothing bad has ever happened to me' is always amusing. The essay that got Isabel Polon into Yale swells with appealing and insightful details that show her meticulous nature.