Friday, July 20, 2018
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I want to prepare a really solid college application. I know that you have said that the essays are important, but just how much weight do they carry in the admissions decision? I plan to apply to a wide range of colleges including Notre Dame, Yale, Washington University-St. Louis, Vanderbilt and Georgetown.
Dear Mr. Student,
You are applying to a wide range of colleges, but all are top schools with admission rates in the low teens — with Yale University at 7 percent. Applying to any of these schools means you must leave nothing to chance. All other things being equal, the essays will play the decisive factor in your admission. Rejection letters typically are sent to the applicants with the worst essays.
Here is how I classify essays:
Greenhorn or first generation
Who wrote this essay?
It could have been written by any applicant. There are no details about the applicant’s personality or what excites them about learning. Notice that I said learning — not college. Every smart young man or woman wants to go to go to college but not all are equally passionate about learning.
This is typically where high school science and math superstars fall prey to the boring essay syndrome. You may be capable of hitting a home run with your grades and test scores but you settle for a base hit because you offer no concrete ideas about what you want to do with your education. Be prepared for a backup school.
Another pretty face
Here we may see a picture of who you are and get an idea of your success quotient. Your goals and interests may show up in lists of achievements and names of people who have influenced you, but you will fall short if you do not describe your background in some detail.
You need to say how your experiences helped to shape your personality and your will to seek new challenges. Unless you give details about your feelings and what you have learned, it will indicate that you do not understand the dynamics of what you are experiencing.
The second time around
I began helping students with their essays when I was in college. I was admitted to all the law schools I applied to and my classmates came to me with rejection letters and wanted to know why. They had top grades and high test scores, so what was the variable that caused their rejection?
It was easy for me to see why they were denied admission: Their application essays were uninteresting and just plain boring! Some actually sounded stupid, and I knew them to be smart students — some with higher grades and test scores than I had. So I asked them to rewrite their essays, make them more personal and revealing and apply again next year to the same law schools. I asked them to write a short autobiography including warts and all. I wanted to know the highs and lows in their lives both on and off campus. With their hopes and aspirations, failures and disappointments now on paper it was easy to tie everything together in a new essay. Most were accepted to their chosen school the second time around.
Remember that the goal is to write a great essay — not vie for a Pulitzer Prize. Let the admissions committee see you as a real person. If your essay is too carefully managed you often leave out some of the best parts of yourself.
Looking like a well rounded person is all hype. Be genuine. Don't try to impress or second guess what you think an admissions board wants to hear. Just write about what's important to you. Universities throughout the country like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, UC Berkeley, University of Chicago, Amherst, Duke, Dartmouth, and countless others look for "good citizens".
This is your one shot to show them a glimpse of who you are and what you stand. Admission committees are not looking for expected answers. One student, who achieved a 34 on her ACT and a 4.0 GPA, was rejected by Stanford yet accepted by Yale. She wrote two essays, one with a lot of sweat and a bit of humor about “how I have a perspiration problem.” Her second essay dealt with the emotional pain of having written obituaries about personal acquaintances for her high school newspaper.
“One essay showed my serious side and the other was a silly topic,” she said. “I'm guessing Yale doesn't get a lot of essays about perspiration.”
Gerald Bradshaw is a top tier US admissions consultant.
Tags: College Search Test Preparation
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