How to write a super duper college admissions essay
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How to Write a Super-Duper College Admissions Essay!. AP Literature & Composition Monday, September 26, 2008

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How to write a super duper college admissions essay

How to Write a Super-Duper College Admissions Essay!

AP Literature & Composition

Monday, September 26, 2008

Presentation adapted from the following materials: McGraw-Hill’s Writing an Outstanding College Application Essay (2005); Rudy Santacruz’s presentation; UC Berkeley Admissions Presentation

Purposes of the personal statement
Purposes of the Personal Statement

  • This is your opportunity to:

    • Introduce yourself to the people who are trying to decide whether or not to invite you to their campus.

      • Imagine it is a face-to-face interview…what would you say?

      • The most important thing is to BE YOURSELF!

    • Show that you are effective communicator (e.g., literate and engaging).

    • Provide information to support/explain the rest of your application.

      • This includes filling in any gaps or answering any questions/issues that may be raised by your application.

      • This is also your opportunity to include anything that is not mentioned elsewhere in your application.

    • Differentiate yourself from other students with similar applications.

  • Remember that you only get ONE chance to make a first impression!

Choosing the best subject for you
Choosing the Best Subject for You

  • Do not use your essay to restate information that is already in your application or to list every accomplishment, activity, award, or personal quality.

    • Focus on one aspect of your life in each essay.

  • Examine the prompt carefully so you know exactly what is required.

  • Brainstorm and see if there are any topics with potential.

  • Keep an open mind.

  • Focus on aspects of your life that you are passionate about, that describe who you are as a person, that are relevant to your future goals, and that show you will be a successful college student.

Planning your essay
Planning Your Essay

  • What type of essay will I write?

    • Think of this as a narrative: you are telling a story, with lots of concrete details, to an audience in order to capture their interest and help them to understand you better

  • What tone will my essay have?

    • Formal or informal, objective or personal, serious or humorous, sarcastic or reverent, etc.

    • Remember to be appropriate and not negative

    • Also, avoid clichés and attempts to be wildly creative or hilariously funny—the odds of achieving the effect you intend are probably not good.

    • The tone you choose should be reflective of your personality. Don’t try to be someone you are not.

      For Discussion: Think about one or two words that you would use to describe your personality or that others would use to characterize you. What tone best conveys these words?

Things to keep in mind as you begin
Things to Keep in Mind as You Begin

  • Write with a focus and a clear voice.

  • Pay attention to clarity of thought, organization, and syntax.

    • This also includes things like tense consistency, use of active voice, etc.

  • Engage the reader.

    • Your narrative should have a conversational, yet appropriate, tone.

  • Illuminate your ideas with details, examples, and anecdotes.


  • Avoid sounding like a thesaurus.

    • Nothing is more awkward or turns readers off more than the use of pompous or inappropriate words. Imagine you are having a conversation with the reader (but again, be appropriate).

  • Keep it within the assigned word count.

    • UC: 1000 words total; no less than 250 words

  • Check to see that you have addressed ALL the requirements of the prompt.

Things readers are looking for
Things Readers are Looking For

  • Remember: minimum eligibility will NOT get you accepted

    • Leadership (consistency)

      • This cannot be emphasized enough, even if you were “only” a participant

    • Improvement

    • Academic Challenge (rigor)

    • Overcoming Struggles

      • Remember not to complain or make excuses—use this opportunity to take responsibility and show the readers how you have overcome obstacles in your life

    • Involvement in your community (consistency)

    • Extracurriculars (consistency again)

  • It is not just about what you did in high school, but about what you will bring to the university of your choice.

  • Did you take advantage of the opportunities that were given to you, or did you waste them?

    • The last question readers will ask themselves, after reading your entire application, is “What more could this student have done?”

In the beginning writing the opening
In the Beginning: Writing the Opening

  • Your essay should grab the reader’s attention (make your voice heard!)

  • The purpose of the opening is to identify you as a unique individual and to introduce the topic and the tone of the essay.

    • Consider using a quotation (be careful to avoid a cliché), a piece of dialogue, a rhetorical question, a startling statement, an engaging anecdote, a challenge, a revelation, an interesting fact, etc.

  • Try two or three openings to get you started and get your creative juices flowing.

  • May be explicit or implicit:

    • Explicit response makes direct reference to the words of the prompt

    • Implicit response presents a situation that illustrates the prompt without actually using its exact wording

      For Discussion: Thinking back to the words you used to describe yourself, which opening would work best to convey those words?

Writing the body of the essay
Writing the Body of the Essay

  • Elaborates on the situation established in the opening/introduction.

  • Presents a sense of who the writer is (you).

  • Consider particular strategies: cause-effect, contrast-comparison, definition, description, exemplification, narration, etc.

  • Consider organization: chronological order, most-to-least important point, least-to-most important point, specific to general, general to specific, etc.

  • Consider details: What subtext about you is revealed by your choice of specifics?

    Again, you MUST include CONCRETE EXAMPLES!!!

  • Consider diction: What does your choice of words reveal about you?

  • Consider syntax: What does your sentence structure tell the reader about your command of the English language?

  • Consider connective tissue: the words and phrases that link each of your points to both your opening and the prompt.

  • Remember: your goal is present yourself as worthy of consideration for admission to this particular college or university!!!

Writing the conclusion
Writing the Conclusion

  • Does not need to be a summary or restatement.

  • May be explicit or implicit.

  • Some good ideas:

    • Make a final dramatic point

    • Reveal an insight gained from the ideas presented in the body of your essay

    • Connect yourself to the college (or system of colleges)

    • Leave the reader with a provocative, final point about you

    • Create an open-ended invitation to get to know you better

Reading between the lines
Reading Between the Lines

  • Your words form the reader’s initial impression of you.

  • The reader will read between the lines to form an opinion of whether or not you will be a good fit for their college.

  • Qualities they are looking for:

    • Enthusiasm

    • Intelligence

    • Uniqueness

    • Scholarship (not $)

    • Ability to communicate

    • The fit for this college (do some research!)

Responding to short answer questions
Responding to Short-Answer Questions

  • Brief, direct responses that provide particular, concrete information to supplement the other sections of your application.

  • Do not use the very same response/wording from your longer personal essay.

  • Use your opening to immediately address the topic without actually repeating it.

  • Provide specific details that refer only to the given topic.

  • Consider each sentence to be capable of becoming a topic sentence in a longer essay.

  • Be specific. Be clear. Be direct. Be brief.

  • Avoid being redundant.

Last but certainly not least
Last, But certainly Not Least

  • Don’t be afraid to begin en media res (in the middle of things).

  • Don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back (but don’t gloat, and avoid pomposity).

  • If you address a negative topic or issue, do your best to link it to a positive outcome or insight.

  • Choose one facet of an experience, and polish it for a single effect on the reader.

Some general application tips
Some General Application Tips

  • Readers consider your application as a whole.

    • Low grades/test scores should not hold you back from applying

  • Readers use their “parent lens” and try to reward you for what is good in your application.

  • UC Readers put your scores in context, so that a top 10% student at Segerstrom is not viewed in the same light as a top 10% student from Valley (for example).

  • Don’t lie—background checks are conducted.

  • If a college decides it needs more information about you, they may conduct a deeper review: this means they may look at first and/or second semester grades, so don’t slack off!!!

  • Choosing a major:

    • If you’re passionate about it? Declare it. If a school is impacted in that major, it may not be the best fit for you (and it’s not always easy to transfer in later).

    • Choose what you want, not what your parents want. Not only do you have to study it for four (or more) years, but what if you don’t get into the school you want because your parents’ preferred major is impacted?

The uc prompts
The UC Prompts

  • Describe the world you come from—for example, your family, community, or school—and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

  • Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution, or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

The uc prompts1
The UC Prompts

  • Additional Comments

    • Additional names, visa issues, foster care, etc. The more information to share, the more the reviewer gets to know you.

  • Describe anything else that you have not had the opportunity to include elsewhere in your application.

    • 500 word limit

    • Why would you waste this opportunity by leaving it blank?

  • Remember, the question reviewers ask themselves at the end of the application is “What more could this student have done?”