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11 months ago
Admissions Advice

What's the hardest part of writing the college admissions essay?

Hey so I'm a sophomore in high school and I want to start learning how to make my college admissions essay the best it can be so I want to know what most admissions offices look at, what you guys think is most important and what is the hardest part about writing the essay.

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@OFHanson11 months ago

The hardest part of writing about writing your personal statement is, quite oddly, actually being PERSONAL. Many, including myself, can struggle through this. Also, being concise can also be difficult as many people tend to extend on the whole story—this can be a mistake as it elaborates on the event itself rather than yourself. (This is true of the personal statement only; others demand other elements).

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3 answers

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11 months ago[edited]

First of all, you need to be more specific about which essay you are talking about.

There are many many essays to consider when applying to college.

1. The graded Essay section of the SAT

2. The graded Essay section of the ACT

3. The Common App or Coalition App Essay if you are applying through those portals. And if you are applying to MIT, Georgetown or UC Schools, they will have their own portal and their own essays.

4. The Supplemental Essays for each of the colleges. For instance, Harvard has 2 short answer essays and one 500 word essay where you select from 6 prompts. UChicago has multiple essays, one of which is a very long one (no word count limit) where they ask you random odd prompts like "What can actually be divided by zero?", or "Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" - Eleanor Roosevelt. Misattribute a famous quote and explore the implications of doing so." both of these taken from the 7 essay prompts that were from this year's application.

5. The various essays, both long and short for College Merit Scholarships like the Johnson Scholarship at Washington & Lee, or 1693 Scholarship at William and Mary or the Jeffersons Scholars program at UVA. These all have essays that you have to complete and submit as well as interviews.

6. The various essays that are required to apply for various Need-Based and Merit-Based Private Scholarships like Questbridge, The Gates Scholarship, The Coca Cola Scholarship, Jack Cooke Kent Foundation, and others.

Each essay is going to be different because they want to learn different things about your academics, your passions, your character, and your personality. There is no such thing as a manual of how to approach essays because there are so many essays you are going to have to write if you are serious about applying to the best schools. You can buy books about how to be a better writer but the best recommendation I can give to you is to use your time in HS to become the best writer you can be in the following ways.

1. Take the hardest English classes your HS offers. Most HS's offer Honors 9th and 10th English, AP Lang, and AP Lit. So take those.

2. Take the hardest Social Studies classes your HS offers because you can practice writing papers in AP US History, AP Euro History, AP Human Geo, AP Govt, and AP Psychology as well as other honors classes like Constitutional law.

3. Join an EC that requires you to write. For example, join your newspaper and try to be the Editor in Chief, or HS yearbook (although that is not nearly as rigorous or challenging). Join your community library and sign up to be on an advisory board that promotes reading or literacy. Tutor or mentor kids in English and other subjects that require you to help write term papers. Even Debate Club, Decca, or Model UN will help.

4. Write for your own pleasure. You can write in a journal. Write Poetry. Write Short Stories. Then as you get better you can submit some of your original work to various writing contests and see how other people view the caliber and quality of your work.

5. You can write about your academic spike, for instance, like as in an online BLOG or a ZINE. Say you are really into Rockets or Drones or Track and Field, you can create content and publish that content and share your work and thoughts with others.

As you get closer to applying to college at the end of your junior year, watch the plethora of videos and streaming content available on CollegeVine with regards to writing a specific type of essay. You will see that there are 1-hour sessions on how to write the UC Essays or the Harvard Main Essay or the UChicago essay. No one will tell you a magic formula, but each session will focus on avoiding common pitfalls that will marginalize how good your essay can be.

As someone who just got into a Top IVY, I will tell you that I spent about 20 hours on the essays I submitted. Even though I'm the Editor of my HS Newspaper, on the Steering Committee of my Public Library, have 11 APs classes under my belt, and scored a 21 on the SAT essay and an 11 on the ACT essay, writing college supplemental essays is no easy feat. I did dozens of edits and had my dad and my friends proofread for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. They were 99.9% perfect but still had a mistake or two on them.

In this COVID-19, Post Standardized testing world we live in, I truly feel that many college admissions live or die by the quality of the essays you submit. They are like your personal recipe for Crispy Duck Confit that you have to cook and be judged by others to get into cooking school with. No one can replace your voice or your style. You can hire some to write them for you but college admissions officers are essay experts and will smoke you out and trash your application if there is a smidgen of doubt that you didn't author the essays yourself.

So I'm sorry that if you were looking for a silver bullet, there is none. You have to apply yourself and grind for 2 more years and evolve into a better writer on your own, so make the very best use of your time and your words.

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11 months ago

I think the hardest part is finding the right topic and see if it matches with your experiences. I thought I had no worthy experiences to talk about, but my sister and I discussed what I did in high school and what was I most proud or what was more rememberable. I recommend talking to someone you're super close with so they can mention things that you undermine but in reality have importance. Right now I think it is important to have a glance at some college essay topics because they usually never change (ex the UCs). But dont sweat it too much. Do what you're passionate about and be committed. For instance, if there is a prompt about how you bettered your community, do things that you want to improve in your community. It may be creating a non profit for helping the homeless, or maybe just a club based on bettering the community around you. Do what you love and eventually when the times come you can splurge it all out on a paper to impress an admissions officer. You got this!!

PS Sorry about some grammar mistakes lol. I did not write my essays like this lmao

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11 months ago

For me, the hardest part was picking a topic. For most of high school, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to write about for my personal statement (a.k.a. the Common App essay), but then when I actually got around to drafting it, it just didn't feel right. I went through several more topics and unsuccessful drafts until I finally landed on a topic that was very personal and not super related to school, but translated great onto paper. I would suggest not falling too in love with any of your ideas -- unfortunately, you won't really know if it works until you actually try writing it, especially because the 650 word count means you need to elaborate with a lot of detail (a very general topic won't get you that far). Once you have a solid draft, it's pretty straightforward to turn it into a polished essay, in my opinion. On the converse, though, don't throw out an entire topic just because your first draft of it didn't work out, which is a mistake I definitely made. There's always a way to reframe your ideas, so if you give yourself a couple weeks to think about it, you'll probably be able to find a better angle. But in order to really go through this process, you HAVE TO START EARLY! Utilize the summer before senior year to start drafting out ideas, and try to settle on a topic/draft before you start senior year.

Of course, this is just for the main essay. Supplemental (college-specific) essays are a whole different story.

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