Friday, August 28, 2009
Short essays make big impressions
Dear Mr. Bradshaw -- I'm applying to college and I'm a little confused about the essays. Most colleges require a personal essay, but some of the more selective colleges require several additional essays.
Some of them are limited to 150 words or even to just 120 characters. Are these shorter essays really important? Or are they just fill-in-the-blank type questions about which I don't have to worry? -- Applicant.
Dear Applicant -- Indeed, the short essays are important, and you should take them very seriously.
Colleges need more than one way to evaluate you, so they came up with a series of short essays. Each one is assigned a numerical score. These scores are then tallied, along with the rest of the application -- grades, test scores, extracurricular activities. Together, they make up your overall evaluation. This what they use when they vote to admit or reject you.
Short essays help colleges identify what admissions committees call "noncognitive traits." These include such intangibles as leadership ability, toughness of character and creativity. They also help colleges identify students who might have a higher risk of dropping out or who need extra tutoring.
Many colleges follow the format of the Common Application and require two essays. The first is the short-answer essay: "Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experience." This is the one you pointed out as being limited to 150 words. Admissions officials are looking for personality traits that go beyond grade-point averages and standardized test scores.
If you take the time to write a great essay, it should improve your odds of getting in. But if you write a boring essay, regardless if it is well-written, you run the risk of rejection -- even with top grades and test scores.
The second essay on the Common Application is the personal essay. This one requires a minimum of 250 words. Because there is no word limit, you can write a good story without fear of leaving something out that is critical for them to know about you -- difficulties overcome, prizes won, special research that led to your interest in computer science, for example. Remember, you have to make it interesting. It is not meant to be a valedictory speech filled with lofty (but vacuous) imagery.
This is your only chance to plead your case directly to the supreme court of the admissions committee -- and jump over the heads of references, interviews and all the other paper work that fills up your folder. The key is, the personal essay must be written persuasively. It is undoubtedly the most important writing you will do, since it will have a direct bearing on your admission.
I know students who have been rejected when the only discernable reason was a poorly written essay. Above all, avoid preening before the admissions committee. Don't come across as overly intellectual or an egotist.
If you have perfect SAT scores, now is not the time to trumpet them. Many top students fall prey to this affliction. Colleges prefer reading about you as a person; they already know how smart you are from your transcripts.
Keep in mind, colleges have been known to overlook less- than-stellar academic qualifications if the applicant writes a compelling essay. I spend a lot of time driving home this point to my clients.
Another danger lies with seniors who become bored filling out the application and wait until the last minute to complete the essays -- and risk bombing. Smart students take advantage, plan ahead and write a masterpiece.
Parents and students if your looking for an expert consultant that is knowledgeable about top ivy league colleges and their admissions processes; choose Bradshaw College Consulting.
Gerald Bradshaw can help students assess what schools would be a good fit that best suits the studentís academic strengths and social needs.
Mr. Bradshaw helps students prepare exceptional admissions applications and essays. Call now for dome great "Get into the college of your dreams!" college admissions advice: (866) 687-8129.