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The College Essay

Author: Tonianne B.

The college essay has always been a daunting task, a shadow looming over the whole college process that most students would rather avoid. They would willingly do more SAT or ACT prep and possibly take more tests if they could just get out of writing the essay.

The gravity with which most guidance counselors and teachers speak of the essay is probably partly to blame. They’re absolutely right to say it is one of the most important components of the college application, but that’s no reason for students to be afraid of it.

Its reputation precedes it, a bit unfairly. It’s not this incredibly academic, pretentious paper that students should research for and agonize over. In fact, the essay isn’t really an essay at all: it’s a story, and all humans are very good at story telling; the student just needs to find the right story to tell.

A student should not write about death, sickness, sports, that service trip he or she went on because he or she thought it would look good on the resume (the colleges presume the students went on those trips to impress them, and they’re not impressed).

So what does that leave?

Well, maybe we shouldn’t say students definitely shouldn’t write about those topics. It’s really the way a person slants things, though originality is always important, hence why the tutors at Jump Start always suggest shying away from those aforementioned subjects.

A student should pick a topic that will help exhibit parts of their personalities that may not come through on the resume. I’ve seen something as seemingly trite as finding out that Santa isn’t real turn into a wonderful essay for a very successful student. It has wit and personality, and really encompasses that student’s personality. There have been some weighty essays as well that do deal with death in a family, but in a way that shows personal growth and development, not lingering sadness and maudlin prose.

The big thing that a student should remember is that he or she should be honest when writing. Don’t make things up. Don’t say she went to Africa to save the lions or traveled to a war torn country to bring aid to refugees. Stick to the facts. Was he or she a Girl Scout or Boy Scout trying to get the Gold or Eagle Award?

What obstacles did he or she run into? How did he or she grow as a person?

Growth and development of an ethos are both very important in these essays. The reader wants to see that the student is maturing, is coming into his or her own as a person, and developing a set of values that are in line with the college’s values.

The other thing the student should keep in mind is that these admissions counselors are reading thousands of these essays, so make the essay interesting. Use visceral language; think of the essay as a mini-movie; have every “scene” move the story along. Above all, make sure it’s not devoid of the student’s personality. A few colloquialisms here or there won’t hurt the writer but will, in fact, illuminate the text and give it a voice.

So once all that SAT and ACT prep is done and the student has taken the tests, it’s probably a good idea for he or she to sit down and type out some ideas, to start playing around with concepts. They should finish a first draft by the start of the summer going into senior year and work on that that draft all summer until it’s as tight and impressive as the resume. Always have someone look it over at least once to make sure it makes sense, and never rely on Microsoft Word to catch errors. Above all, this shouldn’t be something that is put off or painful; it should be a moment of creativity and self-awareness in an incredibly high-wrought time.

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