Admit it: College essays embrace an unusual genre, the personal essay. High school students are well-versed in research papers, comparative essays and persuasive arguments. Yet, very few have experience with composing the personal essay. The college personal essay is a precarious beast that should simultaneously relate personal growth while demonstrating that you are an enhancement to the school’s intellectual and social community. In addition, the personal essay must exemplify your abilities to write effectively and succinctly. As many students are in the throes of addressing the personal essay, Crisp Consulting + Coaching would like to offer a two strategies essential in crafting an essay that will garnish the positive attention of admission officers.
Write Idea. Focus on your scholarly research and how this will enhance the university’s academic community. Writing about hiking the Appalachian Trail or obsessively reading To Kill A Mocking Bird will not distinguish you from other candidates with equal class rank, grades and test scores. Instead of recounting your admiration of Atticus Finch or the red pine of the Carolinas, enhance your essay with the research you’ve completed on forest preservation for ecological and cultural conservation or the means with which Harper Lee challenges notions of race and gender and its specific correlation with your own understanding of humanity. Making your scholarly endeavors personal will pique curiosity and demonstrate your potential to contribute to an academic community.
Write Hook. Since first impressions count and are indelible, the first sentence of your personal essay is critical. With admission officers reading thousands upon thousands of essays and spending fewer than seven minutes per application, you need to make your first sentence memorable. Avoid all the sanctimonious and cliche statements about the accolades of helping the poor children of Africa, idolizing the glories of the ivory tower, recounting the challenges of barely making the basketball team or staying awake all night contemplating your admission essay. Focus instead on a unique and personal attribute that will grab your reader’s attention and induce a closer examination of your essay. The following examples from student writings are great hooks:
- Every morning at 5:30 a.m. my covers rustle and I feel the cold nose of the most dependent responsibility of my life: my aging dog, Jackson.
- When my school cafeteria banned tater tots, I was compelled to enter the political spotlight.
- Although I have no cape and look ill-fitted for skin-tight armor, I am my favorite super hero.
- My nagging stepmother has been the sole impetus I have developed the extraordinary ability to avoid shrill sounds and render myself invisible.
The personal essay offers students an opportunity to present their original and scholarly voice to colleges. A unique essay with a strong scholarly commitment that reveals a personal journey will easily delight and impress admissions officers. As applicant pools grow with talented students with equal grades, scores and rank, the essay could be the sole element that distinguishes you from your fellow applicants.
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Brian D. Crisp is an independent educational consultant with Crisp Consulting + Coaching who works with families in Asheville, Charleston, Raliehg-Durham and Savannah to optimize and realize their unique educational fit and admission success. As a former professor, administrator, and teacher, Brian has the knowledge and skills to counsel families in all aspects of educational planning.