I’ve been spending a cray-cray amount of time with students on their essays this summer, and thought I’d share some thoughts and advice I’ve given (much of which is blown off, which is gratifying! 🙂
Yes, the questions are stupid. But they’re stupid for everyone.
Don’t feel pressured to talk about how you cured Ebola or build a village in a Third World Country over the summer. Most kids don’t have a monumental achievement, challenge or other newsworthy event in their background, it’s OK if you don’t either.
It’s perfectly fine to write a “Slice of Life” essay that’s not laden with five dollar vocabulary words and so ponderously serious that it’s hard to breathe. In fact, you’re doing your admissions officer a favor by writing something fun to read.
Keep in mind who is reading your essay. Chances are that:
they didn’t necessarily attend the college you’re applying to
they didn’t go on a teen tour when they grew up
they didn’t go to sleep-away summer camp
they didn’t travel to Europe or take other expensive vacations when they were your age
Talking about how any of the above changed your life or created a challenge that you overcame may produce an eye roll, not a thick envelope.
On the other hand, it’s not so much that there are “Bad Topics.” Many BTs can be made into good essays. It’s less about the topic, and all about the message.
It’s OK to have your English teacher edit your essay. But bear in mind that an ‘A” paper might be grammatically correct, have an introduction, body and a conclusion, and be otherwise well-organized, but…it could be BORING!
Your essay needs to be interesting, not get an A.
Best way to beat writer’s block: go somewhere without distractions, like your local public library. Leave your phone and any other distractions in your bag, or don’t bring them at all.
Take only a pad and pen. (Your laptop allows you to go online and, therefore, is a distraction). Force yourself to write for 45, uninterrupted minutes. Take a 10 minute break. Rinse, lather, repeat. You’ll write a lot of garbage, but you will come up with diamonds in the rough.
Some of the discarded musings can be used for the supplemental essays. Save ‘em!
Have a ton of supplemental essays? Create one document, cut and paste all questions into it. Now you can prioritize, and see which questions overlap. The sooner you get a handle on your essays, the better you’ll feel.
Second best way to beat writer’s block: speak your essay. Answer the question into your smart phone or other recording device, then go back and transcribe and edit. The best essays sound conversational, so I’m a huge fan of this technique.
I don’t care how good you think your essay is, you don’t need to hit the word limit. 650 words is a ceiling, not a floor.
A 650 word essay should be more than one paragraph.
An A minus kid who writes a Pulitzer Prize-winning essay isn’t fooling any admissions officer, they know Mommy, Daddy, the College Essay Specialist or your Mom’s friend whose kid got into Penn wrote it.
I hope you enjoyed this Public Service Announcement!
– Andy Lockwood