The UCs require two with a total of 1000 words, the Common Application requires one long (650 words) and one short essay. What the heck do you write about? How do you show off your writing acumen and prowess and what the heck does that mean?
Relax folks, you have been studying the essay topic for the last 17 or 18 years.
That topic is unique to you.
That topic is filled with details, impressions, and experiences that you are completely able to access and write about.
What is this wonderful topic? In a word—“you.”
Schools don’t want to see a scholarly treatise on the fall of bitcoin, how you personally saved the unicorn, or why E=mc2 or how Einstein got relativity wrong. What they want to see is a three dimensional version of who you are. They can see your grades, activities, and recommendations. They have all of that, so now they want to know about YOU.
Who are you? What ideas, people, events, occasions in your life helped change you and make you the wonderful person you are today? Are you inordinately fond of the color blue, which made you wonder what color is, which led you to love studying wave lengths of light and physics? Do you love video games? Are you becoming concerned with how women are portrayed, did this lead you to form a girl-empowerment group or help you understand the societal forces that shape your life? Did the first time you sang in a choir or played in an orchestra help you understand how amazing it was that your voice, your notes, combined with everyone else’s made such a wonderful noise? What does it mean to you to be part of that combination of effort and art?
Colleges and universities want to catch a glimpse of YOU so they can see if you fit in with their campus environment.
Is the essay hard to write? Sure. Especially if you are not used to taking an in-depth exploration of your joys, passions, curiosities, and quirks. No, you do not have to overcome great hardship or be the president of every club at school. Remember, there is no one else out there like you.
Taking a long hard look at oneself is tough at any age, especially the teen years. Sit down at your keyboard and start throwing out words that describe you: funny, articulate, tongue-tied, introspective, competitive, collaborative, fearless, optimistic, nervous, excited. Now start typing things that have influenced you: a favorite pet, music, death of a loved one, birth of a sibling, trying to shine in your brother’s radiance, dealing with sisters, getting lost in a department store, failing an essay, coming out, standing up to a bully, your parents working three jobs to feed you, getting to know your grandmother. Chew on an imaginary pencil and think about how this affected you and helped shape the personality and intelligence that are uniquely you. Now write about it. Don’t count the words, just write. Put yourself into the paper and the font, let them show the admissions officers a picture, a snapshot to make you a living breathing person.
Don’t think of this as writing the absolutely perfect essay. It isn’t really an essay. It is a story about who you are and what influenced you and how that influence changed or impacted your life.
Once you’ve written a first draft, let it marinate for a day or two. Pick it up and revise, tighten, edit, revise. When you have a draft you are happy with, watch your word count and tighten it up. Show the essay to someone you trust will tell you what they see. You don’t have to show it to your parents, although we will be really curious. Don’t be afraid to kill your little darlings, words or phrases that just don’t belong. They will live another day. Don’t be trite, grandiose, or condescending. Try to be yourself, expose to the reader that bit of yourself that will grow and thrive on a college campus. Proofread, proofread, proofread and ask a friend to proofread it again. Read it out loud, does it sound like you?
When you are done, copy, paste, and submit. Your best bet is to start the essay early, even in your junior year. Get it done, sooner rather than later.
Trust yourself, you are the expert on this subject.
So go, Get Smart and write.
Get Smart for College
Independent Educational Consultant
Jamie is a UCLA trained educational consultant.