Tips, Tricks, and Timely Information about the Application Process

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Essay Strategies

Tell Me a Story

Your story may be less dramatic than those in the previous article. Never fear, you have a story. In fact, it is a great one! Feeling stuck? Ask your friends and sibling about the stories they tell others about you. Which of your traits do they admire? What do you do that makes them want to scream?

What’s Your Story? What’s the Best Way to Tell it?

The Common Application may have changed. Your high school may have tweaked its counseling process. But…one thing hasn’t changed. Your personal statement must be compelling: it should tell your story! Remember, though, that this can’t be a gentle bedtime story that puts an overworked, possibly bleary-eyed admissions counselosr to sleep! It has to wake him up – and make him take notice!

Tell them something new!
They’ve seen your grades, scores, and letters of recommendation, and brag sheet.

How do you decide what story to tell?
Try this four-step process:

  • Personality assessment

      A. Jot down your

      • characteristics
      • quirks
      • interests
      • strengths

      Uncomfortable? Ask your parents, friends or siblings to list a few. You may be surprised!

      B. Review the lists

      Which traits are not yet revealed in your application? Perhaps your list indicates that you are a great math student and a loyal friend who often goes out of his way for peers. Well, if you are president of the Math Club and scored a 5 on your Calculus AP, the reader already knows about your math prowess. But, she doesn’t know that you babysat for your friend’s annoying five-year-old twin siblings so that he wouldn’t miss basketball practice and convinced four friends to shave their heads a week before a classmate was coming back to school after two rounds of chemo. Don’t write about Math, unless you’ve channeled this passion in a very unusual, creative or altruistic fashion.)

  • University Assessment

    Review the admissions sites of those colleges that interest you and think about the traits they seem to value. List them.

  • Find the overlap

    That’s your story. If you have not yet revealed that you are an out-of-the box thinker who has channeled her creativity through creating two businesses, tell that story.

    If you haven’t shared the fact that you have great conflict resolution skills and can therefore be an asset to dorm life, that might be your story.

    Your passion for whales, art, or your grandmother might also be great stories if they reveal traits about you along the way.

  • Review the questions with your story in mind

    As you do, it will be easy to eliminate at least two of the suggested questions. Start brainstorming and writing. As you progress, one option will emerge as the clear winner, and… if you stick to your story, you too, will emerge as a winning applicant!

Beware the Overshare

Personal story? Yes you need one. Realistic details? Need those also. Intimate Information? Tread carefully. Read on to see what Frank Bruni of the New York Times has to say about TMI and the application essay.

Oversharing in Admissions Essays | By Frank Bruni | The New York Times

Five Tips from a Veteran Admission Counselor

Five Tips for Writing a College-Application Essay | By Lacy Crawford | The Wall Street Journal

Afraid to Dig Deep? Scared to Take a Risk? Go for It! But …Beware of TMI! (See Frank Bruni’s column above.)

Students and Money, In their own Words

Essays About Work and Class That Caught a College’s Eye
Ron Lieber | The New York Times