By Peter J. Francis, HGPublishing Editor
The purpose of the admissions essay, from your point of view, is to persuade the admissions officers to offer you a place in the school of your choice. The purpose of the admissions essay, from the admissions officer's point of view, is to see which candidates are most likely to succeed and to enhance the school's reputation.
I'm going to admit right up front that I'm not an admissions essay expert. I'm a writing expert. If you want some tips about how to write a great admissions essay, try this Huffington Post blog by a real admissions expert. Here are some thoughts of a Dean of Admissions. What excited me about reading this article was that it gave some real insight into what type of content to include in your admissions essay. For example, avoid writing about death and divorce. Or, don't make your essay sound like you are thumbing through a thesauraus while you are writing. Aim to express yourself sincerely in your own voice.
For a long time, I refused to edit admissions essays because I didn't think I could offer services comparable to real admissions experts. However, some clients persuaded me to review their admissions essays and were accepted into the programs of their choice. (See my testimonials page.) After editing admissions essays repeatedly, I realized, that like academic essays, most of you know what you want to say, but just need someone to review the grammar, or do a little editing to make it fit into the word limits. That's why, unlike some editing services, my price is the same for editing an admissions essay as for any other essay. It's your content. I'm just polishing it.
American universities seem to make an awful big deal over admissions essays. Believe it or not, here in Canada, they don't usually require them! Admission is based almost entirely on your high school or other grades. That's actually true in the U.S. as well. Your essay only pushes you up or down slightly. We don't even write the SAT in Canada! (I wrote the SAT because I went to high school in the US, but I only heard of one university in Canada that required it.) Canadian schools in the past have only required an English proficiency test, which might serve the equivalent function: to see who knows how to put a few good words together and who doesn't. However, lately, the University of British Columbia, among others has begun to require students to write a short essay as part of their supplemental application, especially for the Sauder School of Business.
Nonetheless, if you don't feel confident in your admissions essay content, then you might want to use an expert to help you write it.
Beginning an admissions essay is like any other essay: brainstorming. You can use the same bubble format shown on the Getting Started page. Without a prompt, you need to be thinking about things that make you unique. I've read essays where people talk about how they will be the first person in their family to go to college; others talk about hardships growing up. Some people talk about how grateful they are to have a wonderful life and that they want to be able to contribute to the community. You know graduating from college is not going to be easy and you want to show the admissions officer that you have the guts to keep trying, even when the going gets tough.
If you've overcome any obstacles in life, they are great things to write about. If you are inspired by anyone who has done so, it is also good. Leadership is another important characteristic that admissions officers are looking for. Have you ever been involved in any kind of organization? Student government is one way, but even getting group of people together to do some community work, or participating in some activites is a positive thing. The article I cited above talks about going from the personal to the universal. What is an event you have experienced that gave you real insight into yourself?
Responding to Prompts
Often an admissions essay will give you a prompt and ask you to write 500 words or so on it. One prompt that I see often is "How will you contribute to the diversity of XXX U?" I think this question partly helps the admissions office ensure that they are admitting students of all racial backgrounds without putting a box for "race" on the application form. It also helps weed out the overt racists from the pool of applicants. If you're not white, then you simply have to talk about how you have goals and how you see yourself functioning in a multicultural society. If you are white, then you need to say a little more than "some of my best friends are black."
Allen Grove, writing in his admissions blog on About.com reminds us that diversity isn't just about race. His five tips for writing about diversity can help you to write an essay that shows you bring a diverse perspective and diverse beliefs to a college campus, not just a different skin color. It's important to avoid stereotypes. Although many white students like to avoid the diversity essay, if they can, tackling the thorny issue of diversity shows a courage that not many people have today.
The conclusion of your admissions essay should state a vision of an affirmative outcome. "I look forward to joining the student body of XXX college next fall."
What is the admissions officer looking for?
Like I said before, can you communicate well in English? Are you a thoughtful person who has a broad perspective on life in the 21st century? Are you going to be contributing to campus life both socially and academically?
Research essays involve finding information about a topic and evaluating that information. This is often the essay assigned in a history class, or poptical science. You can't fake it here. You will need to read and cite from experts, using APA or MLA style to format your citations.
Persuasive Essays: Taking a stand and using logic to get others to agree. Essentially all essays are about persuading someone to believe your point of view, but the persuasive essay is often assigned in high school, to practice the art of persuasion about current events or controversial topics;
Demonstrative Essays: How to do something. This can be something as simple as how to change a lightbulb to complex instructions on replacing a car motor. Demonstrative essays are the basis for technical writing, and as anyone who has tried to write out the instructions for another person to complete a task, they are very challenging.
Response Essays: Your thoughtful reaction to a work of art. This is an essay where you get to say if you like or not, but it's important to say why. You need to have some kind of standards by which to make a judgment;
Reviews: Your critical analysis of a work of art. This is not so much about whether or not you like it, it's about what it means and how it might relate to other similar works;
Science Lab Reports: Your steps to evaluate a scientific principle or experiment.
Admission Essays are special kind of personal narrative. You want to persuade the admissions officer that you are the right person for their campus.
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