The Powerful College Application #Selfie
College admissions officers read application essays because they want to know the applicants personally. They want the applicants to share, reflect and stand out. They are looking for what qualities these applicants offer their campuses through personal essays. This requires applicants to promote themselves by sharing unique stories that reveal what they can offer college campuses.
College application essays are often challenging for many teenagers to write because they have not been asked to brag about themselves in authentic autobiographical essays until senior year of high school. So, despite their proclivity for ongoing visual self-expression, they struggle while writing about themselves: The large majority of their first drafts are very vague. They often talk about situations so far in the past that they don't get to who they are today. In addition, they don't include any stories that visually show how they are making a difference in their own lives or in their communities.
In one essay I recently read, an applicant wrote four out of five paragraphs about her grandmother and never mentioned how the teenager had immigrated to the U.S. at age 13 and was involved in a major volunteer effort to benefit other immigrants from her home country. Another first draft focused on the applicant's passion for science but never mentioned how he had spent last summer doing original research at a local university. And yet another talked about his immigrant family's economic challenges, but never mentioned that he had spent last summer packaging meat in a local factory with his dad to help make money to pay for his college applications.
I didn't know any of these seniors personally when I read their drafts. But within a few minutes of questioning them about their recent lives, I learned enough to help them identify some possible stories to write about in their essays. How did I do this? Easy. I asked: "What did you do last summer?" That question always gets students started in telling recent, specific stories that they can incorporate into application essays.
I have many other questions that help guide students to write more powerful essays. They include:
- "If you want a college to accept you and even pay for you to attend, what do the admissions officers need to know about you that separates you from the other applicants?"
- "What are your top three activities in high school? How does each relate to what you can offer a college?"
- "If you're going to write about your background or family, can you show who you are now because of them for the majority of the essay?"
- "Can you tell me a specific story related to one of your experiences that can jumpstart your essay?"
By Rebecca Joseph, Associate Professor, California State University
Published on huffingtonpost.com