The Essay: The New Hero of Your College Application
On Mondays, College Scoops highlights a Guest Editor to share their story, college prep advice, or write a post of a trending topic relating to the college admissions journey. We enjoy collaborating with many experts in the field to provide our community with valuable content to help you and your son or daughter navigate the college admissions process. This week Brian Klam, a college essay coach with The Essayists, shares his advice and tips for essay topics and how students can use this “opportunity” at home to start crafting their essay. Brian's experience as an advertising and TV writer makes him uniquely qualified to coach students with their application essays.
Photo Courtesy of Jessica Lewis, Unsplash
Goodbye standardized tests, hello college essay.
As more schools go test-optional and the SATs and the ACTs fall by the wayside (cue cheering students) admissions officers are going to be paying more attention than ever to the essay.
The essay has always been an important part of a college application. It’s your one chance to tell admissions officers what makes you tick, what’s interesting about you, and make that all-important emotional connection. Admissions officers are just like you and me. They have warm hearts. They fall in love. And they’re much more likely to fall in love with a personality than a number on a transcript.
So it’s essay time just as the coronavirus has turned your home into a writing retreat. It’s quiet. There’s not a lot to do. And if you turn off The Kardashians and put away the video games, you’ve got the perfect atmosphere for focusing on an important piece of writing. An added bonus: knocking off a huge to-do item can help calm anxiety.
Photo Courtesy of Alexi Brown, Unsplash
As a college essay coach, we work with students to uncover the life story that will make them stand out. But if you’re not working with a consultant, here are a few tips for generating essay topics and writing your essay.
TIPS FOR GENERATING IDEAS
NARROW YOUR THINKING
In my day job as an advertising writer, we know we have to define our message before we can get creative. If you can come up with a sentence that answers the question ‘what makes me me?’, you’re off to a great start. One way to do that is to make a list of qualities that define you and narrow it down to one. If for example, your defining characteristic is perseverance, think of stories that show you exhibiting perseverance. Keep going until you come up with a story that communicates something important about how you see the world, one that’s also entertaining to read.
Ask people who know and love you for their favorite stories about you. (Feel free to discard the one about how you rode your bike into a parked car or cried at your piano recital.) Is there one that feels like it would make a good story? Does it communicate something important about you? Or maybe give you ideas about other stories that might be even more applicable?
HAVE A PLACE TO STASH IDEAS
As you start generating ideas, more will come…especially when you least expect them. Because it’s important to have a place to capture creative brilliance whenever it strikes, it’s helpful to keep them all organized, either through an app on your phone or a small pad and paper that fits in your pocket. And since keeping your phone by your bed at night isn’t a great recipe for a good night’s sleep, consider this a vote for a pad and pen on your night table.
ASK YOURSELF A QUESTION BEFORE YOU GO TO SLEEP
The creative process is quirky. A method that works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, but here’s a technique I’ve had some luck with. Before going to bed, ask yourself a question, the more specific the better. Don’t wait for an answer, just go to sleep. An answer might come to you during the night or when you wake up.
TIPS FOR WRITING THE ESSAY
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Your reader is an overworked admissions officer who has read piles of dull essays. Keep him or her in mind. Show them some love by starting out with an interesting thought. Otherwise, they may not read the entire piece.
If you’re uncertain about your topic, you may write something abstract, filled with generalities. Those are no fun to read. Tell a story and pack your essay with specifics.
For a lot of you, ‘essay’ and ‘exciting’ don’t belong in the same sentence. Still, it’s important to pick a topic you’re passionate about. If you’re not excited by it, the admissions officer won’t be either.
Writing a college essay is an incredibly valuable exercise. You’re figuring out what’s important to you and learning how to represent yourself in an interesting way. And as your parents and counselors keep reminding you, better to start sooner than later.
Now might just be the perfect time.