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Monday, September 18, 2017
Keeping Your Admission Essay Small
Yes, I meant "small". Not short. Not meaningless, but narrow. I've been working with students on their admissions essays for over 15 years. One of the greatest pitfalls I still see all the time, is the student trying to squeeze their autobiography into a 600-word matchbox.
The first thing to do as you sit down to start brainstorming ideas is this. Grab a post-it and scrawl these words on it: write about yourself, not your activities. Every time you feel yourself reaching back to yearbook club or your National Merit Scholarship, peer up at that note, and start over. I'm not the first or last person who will tell you this.
Colleges often call the essay an "opportunity to get to know you better". When you first meet someone new, do you tell them that you've been in AP English for four years or do you talk about last night's football game? In real life, conversations start small. And you can glean a lot from them. Humans are generally good at reading each other.
This is a great frame for your essay. Start with the presumption that you have no obligation to tell your reader everything about you. Try to avoid broad topics like leadership, compassion, and hardship. Don't be afraid to write 650 words about the thrill of catching a single wave, about learning how to sew, about gardening with your favorite aunt, your favorite smell. I promise you, these are the stories that resonate with readers.
Above all, trust that you have something interesting to share, no matter how small it may seem. It's the details that count the most.
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