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ESSAYS ARE NOT CAUSE FOR PANIC 


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Of all the steps in the college application process, the one that seems to be put off the longest is the essay, or to be more accurate, the ESSAY. Dotted lines asking for vital statistics, even blanks asking for financial-aid figures, do not strike fear in the hearts of first-semester high-school seniors in comparison to the completely empty page asking for the same information in essay form.

Panic doesn't have to set in, however, if the following points are kept in mind.

The essay is a plus, not a minus. Colleges ask for essays so that they can get to know you better. The better they know you, the better they can determine whether or not you fit into their academic setting. The college visit and interview are a necessity in 99 percent of the cases, and the essay does not replace this visit; it does, however, give a chance to have one more word on your application.

Questions commonly asked in the application essay include: "Why do you want to attend this college"? or "If you were marooned on a desert isle and could bring along one book, what would it be and why"? or "If you could choose one person, from your generation or preceding ones, to take to dinner, who would it be"?

The first question, why do you want to attend, needs to be approached seriously. Read the catalog and viewbook once more and review what the college says it is trying to do; then outline how you fit into its statement of purpose or description. Think back on your visit or interview. Did something especially significant firm up your choice that the college you're applying to was the place you would like to be? Sometimes the student tour guides or admissions counselors go out of their way to make you feel at home and this is the place to mention their friendliness, their knowledge of critical information, their openness, their encouragement.

A question on favorite books or people you look up to is a chance for you to show your creativity and personal interests. A quickie warning, though: be honest. Do not choose The Odyssey if you did not read it or if you did your physics homework during the lecture and discussion. If your favorite book is To Kill A Mockingbird, share your enthusiasm for it. Choose a title for your essay that seems to represent your thinking on the topic or theme covered in the book.

Sometimes the essay question is simply to tell the college about yourself. Given this opportunity, try to capitalize on your good humor and remember the poor admissions counselor on his 20th essay of the evening. One top senior, who humorously wrote about almost flunking kindergarten because she could not learn to skip, got a nice note from an admissions counselor thanking her for making a nice interruption in an otherwise very monotonous evening. Another senior, whose father ran a delivery service, woefully admitted that his excellence in following directions and easily finding locations had not rubbed off on her - she got thoroughly lost, even in her own neighborhood.

Given the optional essay - the one where you decide whether or not to write one at all - use the opportunity to show you care enough to want to use every opening available to you to convince the admissions office of your interest in the school.

Finally, remember the three Bs: Be neat, be resourceful, be yourself.

  • Be neat. Remember the halo effect. Always write at least one rough draft that you can mark up. When you finally transfer your essay to the application, it is simply copy work. Carefully proofread your essay for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Do not rely on spell check to catch all your typos. If you must hand write the essay, use a blue or black pen.

  • Be resourceful. Ask your English teacher to be your first reader. Is it clear? Is it interesting? Is it correct? Of course your English teacher cannot write your essay for you, but he/she can be very helpful in listening to what you have to say and giving you guidance on how effective your statement is.

  • Be yourself. Colleges and universities have mixed populations. They are not looking for carbon copies; they are seeking capable and motivated young people. Once you have done your homework in terms of understanding the qualifications for admission and you fit them, being yourself in your essay helps the college see what you have to contribute in terms of the student body.

With all of this in mind, why not do the essay first, not last? Think of how good you will feel when everyone else is just beginning their rough drafts and you are filling in your address and social security number!

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