Writing College Application Essays

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Writing College Application Essays. Revised 8/2013. Agenda. Role of the Essay. Essay Letter of Rec Extra Curricular Diversity Leadership. GPA Class Choice Entrance/Placement Exams. Role of the Essay. The essay lets you. Role of the Essay. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Writing College Application Essays

Writing College Application EssaysRevised 8/2013AgendaThis workshop is about what you can do to write effective college essays. Well start by discussing what role the essay plays in the college admissions process. Then well cover what admissions officers look for in an essay and what you should and shouldnt do on your essay. Then well review the writing process and practice getting started.

2Role of the EssayEssayLetter of RecExtra CurricularDiversityLeadershipGPAClass ChoiceEntrance/Placement ExamsSchools consider parts of the application with different weight. For example, some schools use numeric measures like GPA and test scores as a way to quickly sort through students and may use the personal pieces as secondary consideration. Other schools may place greater emphasis on the personal pieces of the application. While schools may place more or less emphasis on the personal pieces of the application, the essay/personal statement is still one of the most powerful pieces of the application. It tells the admissions representatives who you are, what youve experienced and what youd like to accomplish in your own words.

3Role of the EssayThe essay lets youThe essay plays a special role in the application because it lets you:be creative, personal and unique.share where youve come from, who you are now and who you hope to bedemonstrate your ability to write and reflectshow your best work, why you belong at the school and what you can bring to the school

No other part of the application lets you stand out as personally as the essay.

4Role of the EssayInterview with Gonzaga Law AdmissionsJune 21, 2010U.S. News & Work Report

What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?Successful applicants distinguish themselves via the personal statement. They use it as a means of expressing their values and to connect those values with their desire to attend law school.Role of the Essay$Approach scholarship essays as college application essaysParticipate in NELAs Scholarship Strategies workshopWere going to focus on college application essays today, but keep in mind that all of the things we talk about in terms of college application essays also apply to scholarship essays. To learn more about winning scholarships, you can participate in NELAs Scholarship Strategies workshop.

6AgendaSince the essay gives you a unique opportunity to share who you are with the admissions officers, its important to know how to best communicate that. In order to do that, you have to know what they are looking for.

7What Admissions Officers Look For

When admissions officers read a personal statement, they are looking for how well that student can fit with the school, reflect on experiences and write.

To determine fit, admissions officers may look for evidence of diverse experiences, expressed interest in the school or an expression of shared values. They may also look for evidence of who you have been in the past and who you will be in the future so they can determine what you have to contribute to the school.

Admissions officers will also what to see that you can think critically about the experiences youve had. Your ability to reflect, learn and grow from experiences is more important than the experience itself.

Of course, essays are writing activities so the quality of your writing will also be taken into consideration. Admissions officers will look for appropriate tone and examples. They will want your writing to be focused and organized around a clear theme that answers the prompt and meets word-length requirements.

8What Admissions Officers Look ForWhat do you look for in application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?We look for well-written essays that reflect the applicant's capacity for critical thought and self reflection. The essays reveal an applicant's ability to construct a cohesive statement and a coherent argument. Disjointed statements and those that leave the reader feeling a disconnect between values and actions reflect poorly on the candidate. We'd rather read about an event that triggered the candidate's desire to attend law school, or to learn about her or his passion for justice, than to read they want to be a lawyer because their father is a lawyer.Interview with Gonzaga Law AdmissionsJune 21, 2010U.S. News & Work Report

AgendaNow that we know what admissions officers look for, were going to go over some things you should and shouldnt do on your essays.

10DOs & DONTsDODONTUse I StatementsI believe or I thinkUse active voice: I did thisUse passive voice: It happened to meRecycle your workCut and paste without modificationUse specific and real examples (show)Use vague or hypothetical examples (tell)Use authentic languageAbuse the thesaurusWrite about yourselfBrag about yourselfWrite about someone elseFeel pressured to compare your experiences to othersExpress your wisdomWrite about clich takeawaysExplain lessons from challengesComplain about challengesFocus on the change/lesson learnedFocus on the storyAnswer all essay promptsMiss an opportunity to show who you areCollege admissions essays are unlike the essays that you write in your academic classes. So its important to look at them through a different set of rules. For example, in college admissions essays, since they are personal in nature, it is okay to use I statements without qualifying them with I believe or I think.Youll also want to make sure that you keep your personal statement personal by using active voice.You will also likely be writing essays around similar themes as you complete many college applications and scholarship essays. It is perfectly okay to recycle your work. However, be careful not to cut and paste without modification. If you find that you are able to just copy and paste your work across applications, your essay is likely too general or vague.Which brings me to the next point that you want to make sure that your examples are specific and real. Vague or hypothetical examples dont reveal as much about you as specific and real examples. Examples should directly illustrate the point you are trying to make. Keep in mind what the admissions officers are looking for and choose examples that will resonate with your fit for each school. Just like your examples should reflect you and your experiences, the language you use should be genuine. Its ok to use a thesaurus to avoid redundancy, but be careful not to use words that wouldnt normally use. Its easy to spot language that is unnatural. Its a personal statement. Would you personally use those words?In the vein of staying true to yourself, make sure that you write about yourself. While you may know someone whose compelling experience affected you, dont use examples that arent yours. Dont feel pressured to compare your experiences to others. Its more about your ability to reflect on your experiences than the experience itself. Also, it is a really good idea to check with someone else to make sure that in writing about yourself, your tone is humble and doesnt come across as boastful.In reflecting on your experiences, you do want to make sure that you are expressing the wisdom youve gained from them without writing about clich takeaways that are likely themes that admissions officers are going to be reading over and over again. Remember, this is your chance to be unique. Lets take a second to look at some examples.

11DOs & DONTs: TopicsStudents have many powerful experiences that shape who they are. However, just because an experience is powerful and personal doesnt make it a good topic to write about. Remember that you are trying to show your fit with the school and your ability to reflect as well as stand out from the rest.

Avoid writing about dating relationships. Although there are many things you can learn from a dating relationship that shapes who you are and how you see the world, often students who write about dating relationships fall into the trap of focusing too much on the story and not enough on the reflection. Also, it is difficult to condense the lessons learned from a dating relationship into succinct takeaways that are relevant to your fit with a particular school. Since the essay is your place to provide admissions officers with a look at who you are and what you can contribute to the school, use an example that clearly shows that. Its harder to draw that connection with dating. Students can fall into the same trap when writing about any kind of relationship including mentor, family, coach and teacher relationships. Often it becomes more about the other person or the relationship and not about you.

Use caution if you are considering writing about other common experiences like mission trips or sports injuries because common experiences often lead to clich takeaways. Remember that you are trying to stand out. So if you do choose to write about a more common experience, avoid the clich takeaways like I learned from my mission trip that we are all the same or My sports injury helped me to appreciate what I have. Instead, think of how you can learn from that experience in a different light and turn that into something that says something unique about you. For example, you could write about how your sports injury motivated you to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities and sparked involvement in an organization that promotes accessibility.

Also, remember that experiences that seem common to you might be unique to someone else. Dont discount an experience just because it seems common. Just remember that the uniqueness lies in what insight you can bring in the reflection process.

With every example, you want to be real, be unique and show your fit with the school. Make sure you choose topics that accomplish all of those things.

12DOs & DONTs: Topicsrace & ethnicityDIVERSITYAnother thing to think about in terms of topics is diversity. Schools often ask you to reflect on an experience of diversity. While many students think of diversity in terms of race and ethnicity, its important to remember that diversity covers a broader range of experiences than just those dealing with race and ethnicity. (CLICK) Each person adds an element of diversity to a college community. Think about what your unique experiences can add.

13DOs & DONTsDODONTUse I StatementsI believe or I thinkUse active voice: I did thisUse passive voice: It happened to meRecycle your workCut and paste without modificationUse specific and real examples (show)Use vague or hypothetical examples (tell)Use authentic languageAbuse the thesaurusWrite about yourselfBrag about yourselfWrite about someone elseFeel pressured to compare your experiences to othersExpress your wisdomWrite about clich takeawaysExplain lessons from challengesComplain about challengesFocus on the change/lesson learnedFocus on the storyAnswer all essay promptsMiss an opportunity to show who you areGetting back to our list, many schools and even scholarships will ask you to discuss a challenge you may have faced or ask you to explain a drop in your GPA or other part of your application. With prompts like these, make sure that you EXPLAIN, dont COMPLAIN about challenges. No school is going to want someone who complains about their circumstance.You will also want to make sure you focus on the change you had or the lesson you learned and not the story. Let me say a little more about that.

14DOs & DONTs: The Right RatioSTORYEXAMPLENARRATIVEREFLECTIONMany students fall into the trap of spending the majority of their essay telling a story or giving background to an example. When you are writing about personal things, it can be difficult to leave out details that seem important to the story. So many students will write mostly about the example and spend just a little time summarizing their reflection at the end. However, keep in mind that admissions officers are looking more for your ability to reflect. They are not judging the quality of your experience. So make sure that your writing use the story as context, but emphasizes your reflection. (CLICK).

15DOs & DONTsDODONTUse I StatementsI believe or I thinkUse active voice: I did thisUse passive voice: It happened to meRecycle your workCut and paste without modificationUse specific and real examples (show)Use vague or hypothetical examples (tell)Use authentic languageAbuse the thesaurusWrite about yourselfBrag about yourselfWrite about someone elseFeel pressured to compare your experiences to othersExpress your wisdomWrite about clich takeawaysExplain lessons from challengesComplain about challengesFocus on the change/lesson learnedFocus on the storyAnswer all essay promptsMiss an opportunity to show who you areFinally, make sure that you answer all essay promptseven the ones that are optional. You dont want to pass up on an opportunity to show who you are.

16AgendaNext were going to review the writing process.

17The Writing Processadapted from: Carson DellosaThis is a process that most people are introduced to in elementary school, but many good writers hold themselves back from being great writers by not fully going through each step of the process.

Pre-Writing: It is really easy to dive right into drafting and skip the pre-writing, but if you start without knowing where you are going, you may spend a lot of time trying to figure it out along the way. If you figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it first before you start drafting, you can check as you go to make sure youre accomplishing what you want (go through questions)Drafting: This step is a lot more focused and purposeful if youve done the pre-writing. (go through questions)Revising: This is another step that often gets overlooked and confused with editing. When we revise, were not necessarily looking at grammar yet. Were looking at how your draft does the job of your pre-writing goals. Were looking to make improvements to the content and readability. (go through questions).Editing: This is where youll want to make sure that your grammar conventions are in line and that everything is perfect.

You will go through several rounds of drafting, revising and editing as you tweak your essay and get feedback from others.

(CLICK) Notice that at each step of the way, you want to make sure that you are checking in with at least 1 other person to give you feedback on your work. It is hard to ask for criticism, but remember that youre not writing this essay for your own personal record. Youre writing it for someone else to read. Only someone else can tell you how your writing comes across. You may get conflicting feedback from multiple people and thats ok. You might have a few admissions representatives read your essay and each person will read it differently. Its up to you to take each persons feedback into account and figure out how/if what they say helps tell your story as you want and incorporate the feedback that will help you improve it. You may want to consider limiting your feedback to 2-3 people to avoid as much potential conflict. Some people you may want to ask to review your work may be a teacher, college student, counselor or other mentor.

18AgendaNow lets look at some examples of prompts and get started19Get StartedThe Common Application-FreshmanPlease write an essay of 250 500 words on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below.Evaluate a signicant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.Indicate a person who has had a signicant inuence on you, and describe that inuence.Describe a character in ction, a historical gure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an inuence on you, and explain that inuence.A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.Topic of your choice.Look at these examples from the Common Application. Most college and even some scholarship applications will ask some variation of the questions asked here. Notice that none of these examples as you to tell a story. They ask you to evaluate, indicate, describe, explain, etc. The essays are not necessarily meant to showcase events in your life, but who you are because of those events. Always make sure you are answering the prompt.

20Get StartedThe Common Application-Transfer StudentPlease provide a statement of 250 500 words that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve.

Personal Essay This personal essay helps us become acquainted with you as a person and student, apart from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will also demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself. University of WashingtonPersonal Statement FormatContent as well as form, spelling, grammar, and punctuation, will be considered. Suggested length is 750-1000 words.Academic Elements (required)Academic HistoryTell us about your college career to date, describing your performance, educational path and choices.Explain any situations that may have had a significant positive or negative impact on your academic progress and/or curricular choices. If you transferred multiple times, had a significant break in your education, or changed career paths, explain.What are the specific reasons you wish to leave your most recent college/university and/or program of study?University of WashingtonYour Major and/or Career GoalsTell us about your intended major and career aspirations.Are you prepared to enter your intended major at this time? If not, describe your plans for preparing for the major. What led you to choose this major? If you are still undecided, why? What type of career are you most likely to pursue after finishing your education?How will the UW help you attain your academic, career, and/or personal goals?23University of WashingtonPersonal Elements (required)Cultural UnderstandingThoughtfully describe the ways in which culture had an impact on your life and what you have learned about yourself and society as a result. How has your own cultural history enriched and/or challenged you?NOTE:Culture may be defined broadly. Cultural understanding is often drawn from the ethnic background, customs, values, and ideas of a persons immediate family, community, and/or social environment in which they live.

University of WashingtonEducational Challenges / Personal Hardships (if applicable)Describe any personal or imposed challenges or hardships you have overcome in pursuing your education.Examples:a serious illness, a disability, first generation in your family to attend college, significant financial hardship or responsibilities associated with balancing work, family and school.Community, Military, or Volunteer Service (if applicable)Describe your community, Military, or volunteer service, including leadership, awards, or increased levels of responsibility.

University of WashingtonExperiential Learning (if applicable)Describe your involvement in research, artistic endeavors, and work (paid or volunteer), as they have contributed to your academic, career or personal goals.Additional Comments (optional)Do you have a compelling academic or personal need to attend the University of Washington-Seattle at this time? Is there anything else you would like us to know?

Get Started

(CLICK) Take 1 minute and list 6 words/phrases that come to mind when you think of the life you have lived up until now and the obstacles or challenges that have shaped you.

(CLICK) Take 1 minute and list 6 words/phrases that come to mind when you think of the life you have lived up until now and the triumphs or successes that have shaped you.

(CLICK) Take 1 minute and list 6 people who have been important or significant in your lifefor good or for bad. These can be family, friends, co-workers, significant others, pets, even someone you only encountered once, but who influenced you in some way.

(CLICK) Take 1 minute and list 4 significant events that have occurred in your life that have shaped who you are becoming.

(CLICK) Take 1 minute and list 3-6 dreams or goals you have for your future.

When you are approaching an essay for a college application or scholarship. Think of what the essay is designed to uncover about you. Use brainstorming activities like this one to think of examples you may write about that best address the object of the essay prompt.

27ResourcesPublic Library/College Writing Centerscholarshipjunkies.comTHE PEOPLE AROUND YOU!counselorfriendspeersteachersfamilyprofessionalsA nonprofit corporation, USA Funds works to enhance postsecondary education preparedness, access and success by providing and supporting financial and other valued services.

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