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Making the write decision

Teacher gives input into college essays

November 7, 2018

Photo by Alexis Runnels

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students must task themselves with the challenges of life after high school, whether they have aspirations of college or jumping headfirst into the workforce. But when you make the college choice, you are tasked to fill out an application. Perhaps the most important part, the essay is the student’s best opportunity to justify, humanize or redeem themselves.

Advanced Placement English 4 teacher Anne Granado deals with college essays every year around fall because she believes it’s important enough for students to work in class on their essays. Granado gives her input into writing a good college essay.

Q: How important are your college essays to the whole admission process (against resumé, awards, academics, recommendations, etc.)? What does an essay offer that the other stuff does not?

A: ¨The college essay is very important to the admission process. It is one way to humanize yourself for your admissions committee. They see your transcript, your volunteer hours and your qualifications, but they do not know you. Luckily, they want to. They don’t just want students who have the best GPA or the most leadership positions — though, these are important — they want diversity on their campus. They want people with different strengths and backgrounds. The essay will help show them who you are and what you will bring to their school.¨

Q: What do admission officers look for in a college essay?

A: ¨College Board says that admissions offices are looking for several qualities in college essays. They want to see your personality. They want you to highlight qualities that make you unique. They want to see your creativity. They also want to know that you can write on a college level.”

Q: What makes an excellent college essay stand out against other college essays?

A: ¨The best college essays have a unique focus and an image, idea, motif or symbol that unites it from beginning to end. These essays draw you in and astound you with their vulnerability, mature outlook and creativity. I have chills when I read a really good college essay because it all just comes together. You can tell when a student pushed themselves to think outside of the box.¨

Q: What do students do that seriously damage their college essays?

A: ¨Most essays that fall flat read more like a resume. Students fall into the trap of just answering the question and thinking they need to repeat information that is already on their transcript. However, the best college essays tell a story that answers the question. They present a picture of the student’s life in a way that is hard to forget. They take time, and they fill in gaps in the student’s life that an admissions officer would never get from reading their application. This is a great time to tell a story that explains why you dropped out of athletics, why you are in journalism, why your grades dropped your junior year, or why going to college is so important to you. Every student has a story. The challenge is to figure out what that unique story is and present it in such a creative, engaging way that they instantly want to know more about you.¨

Q: What tips do you have for students writing their college essays?

  • Spend time brainstorming. Ask your family and friends what qualities you should highlight. Sometimes we are shy when it comes to writing about ourselves, but you want to spend time thinking about a creative story that really shows important aspects about your life and personality.
  • Focus on one idea, motif, image, symbol or phrase to unite your essay.
  • Tell a story that answers the question.
  • Do not get attached to your first draft. Give yourself time to push yourself, be creative and make edits.
  • Work with a teacher or adult or friend who will read your drafts and give you feedback.
  • Proofread anything you turn in with a fine-tooth comb.
  • Don’t be afraid to be yourself. You are the only you.¨

Q: Do you have any tips for writing short answers?

A: ¨When writing short answers, you really cannot tell a whole story, but remember, you still want to take time to think of those important qualities of yourself and how you can share them in a unique way. You want to engage your reader as much as you can.¨

Q: Are there any resources online to help with college essays that you recommend?

A: ¨I always show my students the College Board College Essay website. It has videos from college admissions offices, tips and sample essays. I want them to know that the tips I’m conveying to them are, indeed, what colleges are looking to see.¨

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