Secrets to a Successful Admissions Essay
When it comes to drafting a memorable admissions essay, most experts will focus on what to write. This week, admissions guru Shawn O’Connor highlights something equally important: How to write.
One secret to a great essay, in O’Connor’s opinion, is the writing process. If you’re brainstorming weeks before your application is due, you’ve already fallen behind. To excel, writers need time to process their experiences, to understand what they truly learned and how those lessons shaped their path.
To do this, O’Connor encourages you to keep a journal long before you start applying to schools. Why? In O’Connor’s experience, “some of your greatest experiences and accomplishments may have become fuzzy in your memory.” As a result, you need to jot down whatever comes to mind. “Even if such details are not appropriate in your essays down the line,” O’Connor observes, “those specifics often cause additional memories to surface when you review your journal months or years later.”
O’Connor also recommends that you weigh what was truly significant in your life. For example, losing a loved one can seem like a life-changer at first glance. But earning a B in a grueling class, where you embraced quantitative thinking and developed toughness, may make a more compelling essay. “Many significant moments in our lives are actually quite small,” O’Connor says. “Essay topics do not need to be about grand, life-altering experiences. They can instead focus on details that, over time, made you who you are today.”
In literature, the smallest details can reveal a character’s background, motives, and character. The same is true of essays, where details can help you connect with a seen-it-all adcom. “Even if you remember the larger picture of an experience, notes O’Connor, “small details matter. There are minute details that should be captured so the reader sees your story as clearly as you do…An essay should not merely recount events. It should demonstrate how the event affected you. Sometimes remembering and recording specific facial expressions or a particular thought that crossed your mind helps the reader walk in your shoes.”
Finally, O’Connor stresses that essays shouldn’t focus entirely on key events. “You should also include anything that has changed your perspective on life, like a speech you heard on campus or empathizing with someone from a different background from you. This may not substantiate an entire essay, but can be referenced as your motivation for other actions.”
Source: U.S. News and World Report