The personal essay is the only part of the college application over which an applicant has total control. Admissions officers read 30 to 40 essays a day, BUT for a few precious minutes you are center stage, making a case for yourself as someone an admissions officer will want to get to know better. Don’t waste your opportunity!
1) Stay away from admissions cliches:
Admissions officers don’t appreciate your version of something they have already read 20 times before lunch. So unless you have some madly original spin, topics to avoid include:
• How I won (or lost) the big game.
• The house I built in (fill in name of Central American country).
• My grandpa – what a guy!
• World peace would be nice.
• I like the environment.
2) Do not write about “adversity” that isn’t really adversity:
• That time I missed the ski trip because I had a cold.
• My dog (cat/horse/gerbil) almost died but pulled through.
• My parents don’t always understand me.
• Boy, I had a lot of homework.
• Someone stole my iPhone (good thing it was insured).
3) Finally, avoid personal confessions, like:
• The time I said the ferret ate my term paper (I had no ferret).
• The time I missed my math test because I was sick (I wasn’t really that sick).
• I hate writing college admissions essays.
What should you write about? There are still countless options, but here is a good place to start: Think about something you love or are especially good at… something that is uniquely “you.” Why do you love it? What does it say about you? Admissions folk also seem to have a soft spot for family traditions. And yes, you can write about adversity if it was a genuine adversity AND if weathering it made you stronger and more self-aware.
If you can be funny (not at the expense of others but by being a little self-deprecating) do so. Laughter raises oxytocin (the “hug hormone”) levels, which can only put your admissions officer in a better mood.
How do you know if your essay is a keeper? Show it to people who know you and ask them if when they read it they think, “This could only be written by you!” Then you know you’re on to something.
(P.S. Don’t forget to proofread! As Weird Al put it: “Don’t Be A Moran.”)