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COLLEGE ADMISSION ESSAYS. Timmi Turley University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 217.244.3757. Role of the Essay. Holistic review Qualitative measure Communication ability Tell us about you, not about us.

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college admission essays

Timmi Turley

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


role of the essay
Role of the Essay

Holistic review

Qualitative measure

Communication ability

Tell us about you, not about us

essay 1 please discuss your academic interests and or professional goals
Essay #1: Please discuss your academic interests and/or professional goals

Educational goals

Previous experience

Areas of interest

Passion for subject/major


Essay #2: Choose one extracurricular activity, work experience, or community service project from the list you provided on the application and explain why you initially chose it, why you continued with it, and how you benefitted from it.

Character and personality


Level of commitment


Optional Essay #3: Is there any additional information that you feel we should be aware of while reviewing your application, including extenuating circumstances that affected your academic record?

Provide context for academic performance

Detailed explanation

essay tips
Essay Tips


Follow directions

Generic essay

Personalize correctly



Special Circumstance Essays

Megan Woodruff

Northern Illinois University



Reasons To Write One…

♦ You feel you have a special circumstance….i.e. you are not meeting some form of traditional admission criteria for the school


-Test Scores

-Course Work


What To Include…

The Obvious…And The Not So Obvious

-Your full name

-Your date of birth

-Reason for the letter


Things To Avoid…

♦ Using something that was written for a class

-Not specific enough in addressing reasons student is not meeting admission criteria and why they should be admitted

♦ Using an essay that was written for another college application

-Again not specific enough

-We can tell


Things To Do…

♦ Acknowledge the issue, then move on.

♦ What has it taught you?

♦ Why would you be successful now and at this school?

♦ What can you bring to the campus?

♦ What are your goals?

♦ What resources do you plan on utilizing to help you achieve these goals?


Writing A College Essay Is As Important As Writing The Great American Novel…

♦ Know your audience

♦ Books are often judged by their cover as well as what is inside it

♦ “Dick and Jane” Vs. “War and Peace”

♦ Use your “staff”

positive and negative aspects to the college essay
Positive and Negative aspects to the College Essay

Rob Walton

Northwestern University


  • I am not an English professor, nor was I an English major, nor am I the best writer myself.
  • Some of the info here will seem very ‘common sense’ but hopefully will convey what we see when we read college essays
  • Different colleges and universities look for different aspects to essays. These points are general with some editorial.
well written essays
Well written essays…

Give specifics—

    • Easy to talk ‘what’; explain the ‘why’ or ‘how’
    • Fully answer question
  • Intelligent humor is always good when used appropriately
    • A ‘hook’ usually doesn’t work
  • Starts well and then goes BEYOND the narrative
  • It is ok to write a ‘cute’ essay but it has to also have a point.
essays can fall short when
Essays can fall short when…
  • The ‘hook’ is inappropriate
    • Shock with no substance
    • Again, ‘hooks’ are not necessary
  • The tone is ‘snarky’ with no follow through
  • A rant with no support
  • Overstatements
  • Shallow or insincere
  • Immature tone or language
final thoughts
Final thoughts
  • Content is more important than length
  • No right or wrong answer
  • Trying to use the same supplemental essay for multiple institutions is dangerous.
  • There are more ‘good’ essays than ‘bad’ ones, but a big middle ground exists too.
  • Essays are a very subjective piece to the application…