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Monday, July 11, 2016
Choosing Words Wisely in Admissions Essays
In my many years of editing admissions essays, I have seen and read a lot. I've helped students from a wide variety of backgrounds, with expansive and sometimes unique sets of experiences. I have also learned how to read between the lines. While each student's history may be distinctive, their admissions essays often aren't. The flood of similarities can get cringe-worthy—mostly because I know that students are generally trying their best.
As a seasoned reader, I can sense when a narrative is becoming rote and-hard as I may try-that's generally when my shoulders begin to slump.
I believe admissions officers feel the same.
Trust me when I say that I'm not unsympathetic to students. It's hard to write well when the stakes feel so high. The crux of the problem is twofold. First, students want badly to sound "interesting" to their reader. This desperation doesn't always lend itself to quality writing. Second, students are so caught up in needing to impress, that they want to write about everything.
Remember-your grades and test scores are listed elsewhere on your application. There should be almost no reason to discuss them in your essay. Period.
Tread lightly on the community service work. For the vast majority of students, this isn't central to their identity. Completing a CPR course or finishing a 5K cancer run doesn't tell your reader a lot about you. Volunteering four summers in a row at the local hospital probably does.
If you're a middle class student who traveled to Kenya to help build a school, spare your reader overly reflective observations about disparity of global wealth. If the trip truly changed you, it will be evident in the life you've lived since.
There are topics that most consultants will tell you to simply avoid: sex, drugs, crime, and politics. Write at your own peril. Be careful discussing death of loved ones; it is difficult not to sound as though you are exploiting grief in order to earn your reader's approval.
Above all, don't feel as though you need to be everything to everyone. Your reader knows you are human. Write like one. Don't overcomplicate things. Write something you’d like to read. You’ll be surprised at how far that will carry you.
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