College Essay Tips

I’m starting to go out of my mind. Draft after draft that I do not like :confused:

I’m not looking for essays but just tips on what to do and what not to do. Just for reference this is my prompt (University of California). 2 pages max…blah

Again, anything to get the juices flowing would help. Right now I am concentrating on an internship at the animal research lab at Princeton Univ. Debating whether to keep or drop stuff on my internal debate on animal treatment ethics (i.e. what I saw and how I feel about it) and just stick with what I learned and how I learned it.

Right now my personal statement (essay) probably is one of the things that will decide whether I am going to UC Davis/UC Irvine or UC Santa Cruz. While UCSC isn’t bad (quite good actually). It is only 1 hour away from home ;). Davis/Irvine are just a little higher up on my list.

Do you want tips on the actual writing of, or the content?

Contentwise, I’d say make yourself look well-rounded, even if you’re not. Focus on how many people you go to meet, how much you enjoyed the work, and whether it influenced your decision on your eventual career. Stay away from the animal-rights stuff. Make yourself look as average as possible. If you’ve done any volunteer work or played any sports, include that too.

As for actually writing it, the easiest thing to do is make a list of points you want to discuss, organize them by reverse importance, and start writing. Get someone to check your spelling and grammar if you’re not confident.

Best of luck to you.

Good God, son. You’d pass up Santa Cruz to live in Davis (said as a former Sacramento resident now going to UCSC). =)

Well if you must…

Your personal statement is the only chance for the admissions officials to see who you really are. They see thousands of overacheivers who have spent their entire lives doing stuff that looks good on a college application. What they want know is not an impressive run down of what you’ve done that looks good, but rather your personality. They want to know if you will add vibrancy, leadership and diversity to campus. They want to know what makes you unique- not just another grade-clone.

Don’t be normal! They get so many normal boring essays that they get sick of them. What you need is something that catches their attention. According to a book I read, one of the best application essays an admissions official ever saw started with “I do my best thinking on the toilet” and went from there.

A good idea is to choose a single incident- your first time at the reasearch lab, the time a specific thing really touched you, or something like that, and go into great detail about what you though and felt and how that has affected your life- both academic and non-academic. Don’t be afraid to be a little unconventional…as long as you don’t do anything too scary unconventionality can only work in your favor.

I did my personal statment on a magazine that I created in high school. I focused on a single day- the day I went out to distribute it. Around that I wrote about how the magazine came in to being and how it illustrated my creative drive and my unconventional attitude.

If you want, you could email me (my email is in my profile) a draft and I could look it over and give suggestions. I’ve read up a lot on college application essays and I have experience helping people form their essays. I’d love to help.

Are you applying for under graduate, or graduate admission? Or applying for some kind of fellowship? The comment about an internship at Princeton makes me wonder.

My advice to an a new undergratuate is not to try and artificially attach your essay to your intended “major”.

Find things in your past that really hit you in the gut emotionally, for better or worse. What conclusions did you draw from them? How have they affected your behavior?

I suggest this because you’ve probably spent a lot of time dwelling on some things, and you may already have written an essay internally to yourself that you can recall.

2nd piece of advice, don’t sweat the subject matter so much. They are looking mostly for clarity and logic. Anything that shows you can go from A to B to C, and give clear directions for someone to follow, will do unless it’s an EXTREMELY competitive school, like Princeton maybe. You still got a copy of what you wrote for that gig?

Somebody else can respond better if you’re going for a higher-level admission.

Undergraduate :wink: Getting the internship took a little doing. It pretty much involved gathering data on analyzing EEG brain waves on lab rats.

Just leaving my options open also :slight_smile: I very well might go to Santa Cruz. It’s interesting that it is closer to where I live but most people I know are trying to get as far away as possible. So by going to college closer to where I live I might actually be breaking free of high school a little more.

Oh well, plenty of time to decide before slim or thick letters arrive.

davis alumni checking in. Hope you like a few months of grey drizzle every winter and don’t miss seeing the sun for weeks on end. Some good things about Davis, but Santa Cruz is cowabunga awesome dude.

Perhaps covered earlier, write about anything that you are passionate about. Then the juices should just flow. I would also just spit out a couple of pages without much structure, take another look at it, and you’ll probably find something interesting to write about buried in there somewhere.

I just might change the focus of my essay yet again. One of my main interests outside school is current events and politics. Newspapers, Weekley Magazines (Time, Newsweek, USnews, American Heritage etc). Certainly something out of the ordinary for a high school student. Maybe also tie in my involvement in MAOS (Monterey Academy of Oceanographic Sciences - The Academy I am in at my school…a school within a school really).

An internship is probably something admissions officers read a lot. Will still mention it, but maybe de-emphasize it.

I’d probably be less anxious if ACT would let me pay extra $$ to get my score report early. Would be better to gauge how I am currently doing overall.

Thanks again for all the suggestions so far.

Well I wrote out my college essay to MIT just a few weeks ago. It was pretty easy since they let you write about whatever you want. I’m not big on this so called, “helping people” thing so I just wrote about TV and how I love it so much. It was a pretty comical essay and that was the point for me, being the funny guy I am or at least pretend to be. If you’re a funny guy, write something funny. If you’re a serious guy, make something serious, but interesting. Lots of, “I am smart, look at me. I do smart smart blah blah blah” is bad if you can’t spin it in a way thats NOT the norm. If you still can’t express your thoughts properly or you can’t get them on pape, see if you can get an interview (which is actually required by some colleges for this reason).

This is assuming you don’t have stellar grades. I mean, straight A’s every year at a top notch high school w/ 1550 SAT and a 35 ACT will get you in many places no problem.

Yeah, save that for the grad school essays… :eek:

*is attempting to work on statement for doctoral programs

is not having a good time*

Katisha, where are you applying?

I don’t know if this would work if you’re interested in, say, Harvard or Berkeley, but most grad English programs are perfectly happy for you to remain fuzzy about your dissertation topic and other future plans. I’d suggest concentrating on something solid you’ve done in the past – a term paper you think you might develop further, or your first teaching job, or anything else relevant that you can tell them a story about. They may say they want to know about your research interests, and it’s worth mentioning them briefly, but a record of actual achievement will impress most faculty members more than some vague language about stuff you haven’t really thought out yet.

(Of course, I don’t know whether you want to take advice from a second-year PhD candidate who hasn’t found a dissertation topic yet, but hey, at least I got in …)

I’ll second even sven’s suggestions that the entrance essay is the one chance you get to introduce yourself to the admissions staff and let them know who you are. You aren’t “candidate #1029381, GPA x.xx, SAT xxxx, Index score xxxx,” you’re Czaoth, a real person. At a party, you wouldn’t go up to someone you found interesting and introduce yourself by saying “Hi, I’m Czaoth, I’m xx ft. tall, xxx lbs, and I enjoy xxxxx and yyyyy.” So why do it on a college entrance essay?

Tell a story. Crack a joke. Be laid-back. Be yourself. Smile. Wait, scratch that last one; that’s for dates.

Show, don’t tell. If you want to convey that you’re a funny person, write an amusing story. Don’t write sob stories; if you write an “overcoming adversity” essay, put a positive spin on it. And definitely leave out statements that say, "so the whole point of this is to show that I’m…” It’s a college entrance essay, not an argumentative essay.

As for specifics, you say you want to talk about your internship at an animal research facility. When you talk about your internship with friends or family, what do you tell them? What do others ask you about the job? Put those things in your essay. Then, from that, pick out a couple things that you personally find most interesting and talk about that. Two pages aren’t a lot of room after all.

Above all, don’t feel that you have to impress your readers with your abilities, wow them with your knowledge, and amaze them with your strong moral character. Just show your readers that there’s a personality behind all the grades and test scores and you’ll do fine.

A copy of one of my favorite college entrance essays can be found here. It’s off-the-wall, but leaves me with the impression that I wouldn’t mind sitting down and chatting with the guy for an hour; the author seems interesting. And more importantly, he seems like a real person.

Best of luck to you, Czaoth.

Well, I’m applying to stay on at Chicago, and also to Michigan, Penn, Boston U, and St. Louis U (my fallback school, more or less). I’m definitely planning on discussing my B.A. thesis (as I’m just beginning to start thinking about my M.A. thesis…something about Ben Jonson, perhaps? 'Cause Jonson is pretty cool), which is basically the best thing I’ve ever written. And, unlike last year’s round of applications, it’s finished now, and I was awarded High Honors for it, so I’ll know what I’m talking about when I write about it. :wink:

I’m writing a little about my research interests, but not so specifically as to get into possible dissertation topics, since as I said I don’t even know exactly what I want to do with my Master’s thesis. My big problem when discussing my interests, though, is that I’m into Ren drama, and Shakespeare in particular, and I feel like anything I say in an application essay will just sound like I’m retreading ground that’s been covered many times (probably because in all likelihood I am). How do I convey interest in well-known subject matter without sounding boring?

Be yourself, write about who you are and what you really like.

Once it gets to the essays, you are past the point of the initial screening. Thus, the people who read the essays are the ones who make the real decisions. Up until that point, student helpers are going through the stacks and throwing out the low GPA’s, messy, etc applications. The people who read them are interested in how you as a person can add to their community. Write about things that will show you as an asset to said community.

Apart from that, make it look PERFECT. It just adds some points. If there are grammar or spelling mistakes, then that will count heavily against you- if you can’t make sure that your application essays are perfect, then why in the hell should they entrust you to do well in their Lit. 101 course?

Take the application packet and xerox it a few times. Practice printing out on the xerox’s so that it looks neat. Fill up the spaces, correct everything, have friends check it, etc. Then when you know it is perfect- throw the original in and hit print.

One last thing: the ‘optional’ essay is not optional. It might just be the most important one. It will throw a ‘maybe’ into the ‘accepted’ stack. Don’t save it for last- do it first.


Thanks a lot for the suggestions. I am sure I am on the right track now and am speaking from the heart about what I love to do.

Thanks again for all the help and suggestions.