The College Essay, an overview Because of the increasingly high number of applicants with high GPAs and SAT

scores, the personal statement has become more and more important in the admission decision and thus should be taken very seriously. Starting early and seeking plenty of feedback are key in a writing successful essay. The personal statement essay is a critical part of the college application process that is used by admissions officers in getting a more in-depth understanding of the applicant. Essays should elaborate on underdiscussed or new ideas from the application—they should not simply list surface level achievements that can be found in the normal application. Starting the essay:
 READ THE PROMPT CAREFULY AND MULTIPLE TIMES. Make sure the essay

answers the prompt. If there is any confusion about what the prompt is asking, never hesitate to seek advice from an English teacher or college advisor.
 Brainstorm topics. Ask questions like: What do I want to share with the admissions

officer that is not shown anywhere else on the application? What events or activities in which I have taken part significantly affect my character? What qualities or experiences do I have that are valuable to the institution? What part of my life may contribute to a more diverse university? What sets me apart from the rest of the applicants? The essay topic does not have to be outstandingly amazing. The important part is that the essay shows a clear reflection about how the topic affects the applicant. The experience and reflection are what make a good essay—not the topic itself.
 Once a topic is chosen, brainstorm HOW that topic is significant. Ask questions like:

HOW does this event/activity/experience make me a better person? What have I learned from this? How has this experience changed me? What changes have I gone through? How will this experience affect my contribution to the college campus (think diversity and leadership qualities)? For example: One applicant chooses to write about taking an astronomy class at a community college. While the class itself may have nothing to do with his applied major, the choice of taking such a class may provide insights to his character. For example, he can discuss why he believes it is important to explore different fields of knowledge beyond the requirements in high school. He can give insight about his curious nature and explain how that curiosity makes him a better learner.
 After brainstorming, disregard the word limit and just write.

Revising the essay, what to look out for:

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 The essay usually limits the applicant to a specific number of words. Each word is

precious and should not be wasted on irrelevant ideas—the essay should FOCUS on the applicant. For example: An applicant may choose to write about the death of a particularly close family member and how the death affected his or her life. “During my sophomore year, my grandma suffered from a heart attack and was hospitalized because of it. After a few days of fighting with death, she passed away. She was 87 years old when she passed away” This lengthy explanation that is not directly relevant to the applicant can be shortened to this: “My grandma passed away during my sophomore year.” By briefly stating the event, the applicant then has more room to explain and elaborate on the SIGNIFICANCE of the relative’s death and HOW the death affected the applicant’s life.
 The essay should be centralized around one main idea rather than many.

For example: The applicant is writing about his experiences involving tennis. He not only plays for his high school’s team, but also teaches tennis. He decides to cover both his dedication to his high school’s team and his experiences teaching. As a result he is only able to develop surface level ideas. Instead, he should focus on EITHER his dedication to the tennis team OR his experiences as a teacher. There are plenty of ideas to reflect on in one of these activities alone. The important objective is to make sure the essay is develops a COMPREHENSIVE REFLECTION on a particular topic.
 Be sure all the ideas discussed are well-developed. Discussion on a topic is more

important than the topic itself!
 Avoid repetitious writing. Watch out for this especially in the conclusion.  Use engaging and active language. Admissions officers are reading hundreds of essays a

day—a boring essay will not help the application at all. Avoid using the passive voice and boring verbs; however, overly flowery and descriptive writing is not advised either. The best written essays are SIMPLE and CLEAR, yet engaging and descriptive. Editing and the final stages:

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 Have as many people read the essay as possible. Grammatical and spelling errors are not

acceptable!
 Read the essay out loud—this is one of the best ways to catch careless mistakes.

These major points to be aware of should pave the way to a great personal statement. REMEMBER: Think deeply, reflect and develop ideas. Each person’s life is filled with many unique experiences that have potential for an amazing essay. Good luck!

Jonathan Chu

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March, 2007

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