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Sunday, October 29, 2017
The Courage of Losing the “I”
There's an old adage about experience being something you got by not having it when you needed it. This is true of wisdom generally; most adults will admit that the more they learn, the more they realize they don't know. A young student might roll their eyes at this existential musing, but they should trust me on one thing: the person reading your admission essay has more experience than you do. Your job isn't to outwit them.
Many students tackling the essay struggle with the overuse of the word "I". Which is paradoxical, given that the admission essay is, by design, autobiographical. The thing is, a good essay shouldn't simply be a list of accomplishments. It shouldn't be a mixing bowl full of adjectives either. If you're a great leader, or altruist or hard worker-don't just say that. Show it. Trust your reader to be able to read between the lines.
The admonition to "show, not tell" is ubiquitous in the world of college counseling, but often falls on deaf ears. Why? In a sense, it's because students don't always trust that their experiences will speak for themselves. They worry that the essay needs to be an exercise in successful self-branding. In another way, students fail to heed this advice because they aren't experienced enough in life to see the essay through adult eyes. And this is something that can't be taught.
Challenging though it may be, students must learn to zoom out when it comes to the essay. Listen to your elders-your guidance counselors, teachers, parents. Trust that writing about that time you fixed a carburetor on your lawn mower can tell your reader more about you than the time you were voted student body president. You need not write passively about principles of leadership if you can instead tell the story of how you used to be in charge of making breakfast for your younger siblings.
Experience teaches us that there is value in the little things. We learn by doing, and by wading through mistakes. Your reader doesn't expect you to know everything at age 17. Your essay should be a prologue, not a final chapter. Have the courage to lose the "I".
Labels: The Courage of Losing the “I”
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