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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Do not Miss the Point in Your Admission Essay
Ever tried combing the internet for successful admission essays? No? Perhaps it's an occupational hazard for me, but it's something I'd recommend to any student struggling to put pen to paper. I'm not talking about sample essays. I'm talking about essays written by actual students who were actually admitted to universities. You'd be surprised how many schools and students are willing to share the success stories.
A successful essay says more in 500 words than an instruction book could say in 200 pages. This isn't to say that consultants, websites and other information-gathering tools don't have value. It's just that when you really have writer's block, general advice can just be frustrating or unhelpful. "Write from the heart", "show, don't tell", "offer a window into your personality". These are the platitudes I see and give, and they are all accurate. They just aren't always that instructive.
I see some students falling into one of two traps with their prose alone. It's either way too simplistic, or way too obtuse. By the time you're knocking at college's door, you should be able to craft something more compelling than "dance team was fun". Conversely, a thesaurus isn't a substitute for well-crafted narrative. Bigger words are not necessarily better.
But take this example. An essay describing how the "moon poured creamy beams onto the desert floor". This is just beautiful writing. The essay itself had little to do with the outdoors, but the writer had me at that line. This was a 17-year-old high school student. So it can be done. He or she wrote about a painful life experience without sounding maudlin, or saccharine, or whiny. In fact, the writer did it while taking care to describe the texture, shade and context of moonlight.
Writing, I realize, isn't everyone's strong suit. But as you sit down to start, try not to micro-focus on the wrong ideas. Let your creativity take over. Don't feel like you have to recount every soccer trophy, the sting of every failure, or each hope and dream. There isn't space for all of that. There, is, however, space for something beautiful, and you don't have to be a novelist to create your opus.
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