|Admissions Essays Blog|
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Monday, August 26, 2013
Beware of Too Much Sincerity
Oscar Wilde quipped that "A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal". No doubt, many of the admissions essays of our time would cause the great 19th century author to turn in his grave. Proof, perhaps, that society changes quickly, but human nature much less so.
Because most people can smell insincerity a mile away. And it isn't pretty. It offers a blueprint of a person who is, at worst, manipulative and at best, unimaginative. Neither are qualities very appealing in a student candidate.
You may have volunteered at the homeless shelter in order to pad your resume, but if you weren't really invested in the experience, that insincerity will come through in your writing. It's hard to write about personal growth in your admission essay if you really didn't have any.
Lack of introspection often comes across most painfully in those essays that attempt to wade into weightier emotional waters. I'm talking death of loved ones, siblings with disabilities. If you are going to tackle something serious like this, tread lightly on your words, unless you really mean it. This is sensitive stuff.
Frankly, if you are a writer prone to hyperbole, the admission-essay writing process could offer an important learning curve. There is almost never room for too much sincerity in any formal written work. You just don't need it. It isn't persuasive, it's distracting.
If you're trying too hard to wrench meaning from something insignificant, it will be obvious to your reader. Some of the most emotionally understated works of literature are the most moving. So think carefully about your tone as you set pen to paper.
Labels: Beware of Too Much Sincerity
Monday, August 19, 2013
How to Really Get to Know a College Campus
This week HuffPost offered a tip-list for students planning to tour college campuses in preparation for application season.
I liked it, but couldn't help wanting to add a few thoughts of my own.
When I was in college, my school offered something called a Little Siblings Weekend. The name is pretty self-explanatory. Students living in the on-campus dorms could invited their younger siblings to stay with them for a weekend in order to get a flavor of college life. My brother, who is 9 years younger than me, took advantage of the occasion, and loved every minute of it.
When you're 11 years old (and perhaps older), the joy of the dorms is pretty simple. Stay up late. Play video games. Get fruit loops and hot chocolate down in the cafeteria. But truly, there's more. I took my brother with me to my classes. He did get a window into dorm life and life with actual college students. I took him to the sporting venues, the coffee shops, the massive library, the local college village.
Incidentally, he ultimately graduated from the same school as me. I don't attribute this to my skills as a tour guide. I do think that this early visit demystified the experience for him in a very palpable way.
HuffPost offers all the sage advice. Take the campus tour. Take notes. Pay attention to financial aid packages. The thing is, when I was 18, this stuff mattered less to me than the "feel" of a place. Research is important, for sure. But once you've narrowed down your choices using external metrics such as academics/affordability, you should really test-drive it.
Understand that a campus tour may not be enough to help you make that decision. You may not have a sibling to shack up with for the weekend, but get creative. See whether or not you'll be happy spending four years there.
Monday, August 12, 2013
It's in the Details, Silly
If anyone ever asked me what my most frequent critique is, I would say this. Essays that don't actually say anything. That sounds unkind. What I mean to say is that many students get stuck in what I call the vortex of platitudes. They write an awful lot without saying much at all. This universal weakness makes sense to me. Students applying for an undergraduate degree are young. The college admission essay almost sets students up for failure by asking them to delve deep into a reservoir of life perspective and extricate something meaningful and compelling for show-and-tell.
For this reason, students get caught up in one of two categories. The first: cram-everything-I've-ever-done into 500 words. The second: write about my week at survival camp. Neither are complete recipes for disaster, if done well, but that's a tall order. But for those of you leaning towards option #2-remember this. No one wants to hear how survival camp made you a stronger person/stretched the limits of your perseverance/taught you how to appreciate your life opportunities. It isn't that these things aren't valid. It's just that they are too broad.
What you need to do instead is use them as paragraph starters. Survival camp made me a stronger person. As I grabbed onto the tattered orange rope and stepped onto the bridge, all I could think about were the jagged rocks in the water, 50 feet below.
This works for every subject. Maybe you're writing about your favorite cat Morris. Don't talk about how much he meant to you without also talking about the white goose-down masquerading as fur around his tiny claws.
People are drawn to visual imagery. You don't have to make a sweeping statement about the world around you. If you're stuck, focus on what you know, and how well you know it. You'll be surprised at how well the small things flow from your brain to the keyboard.
While this doesn't mean you should ignore the mechanics of structure and persuasive prose, it should help keep you on track for writing something that your reader will savor and remember.
Labels: It's in the Details Silly
Monday, August 5, 2013
Is Getting into College the Hardest Part
A friend of mine is the mother of a 17-year-old high school senior. He's a talented musician. He's already taking college courses at the local community college. What's more, he's polite, driven, and focused on his future. So is she.
She is a single parent of an only child, which carries with it its own dynamic. She's managed to raise a strong, smart, ambitious child without much help from his father. Finances are tight, which is part of the reason she sees academic success as a road out for him. Right now, she's spending a fortune on a college consultant; she insists it's worth every penny.
According to her consultant--getting into college is harder than college itself.
Do some light reading on the college consulting industry and you'll find a million different perspectives. The most vociferous critics call it things like the New Snake Oil Industry. The middle ground says, if it gives you peace of mind, it's worth the money. Others, like my friend, say that advisers are the lifeblood of the process. Without them, you're just not getting in. I always like to think the truth is somewhere in the middle. You can do almost anything in life without a broker, so long as you do the research yourself. That doesn't mean that buying a house isn't easier if you use a real estate agent.
Is getting in the hardest part for the student or the parent? Is it intellectually challenging, or just a cruel battering of your nerves? Is it a non-issue if you can't afford it? I'm not sure there's a single answer for anyone. If it works for you, great. The fact is, admissions has become more challenging. There are people with varying degrees of knowledge of the process. If you chose your help wisely, the "getting in" part shouldn't be nearly as hard as being a college student.
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