This week we continue discussion of the college essay or personal statement.
The essay allows the admissions committee to learn about the student beyond grades and test scores. That is, learn about the student’s experiences, what he or she thinks is important, lessons learned, opinions and interests. The essay also provides an example of the student’s ability to write, to convey a thought.
Before submitting the essay or personal statement the student should ask: What is the main point – is there one? The body of the essay should support the main point in an interesting, readable manner – not overly wordy or too detailed. Examples and stories can – and should - be used to illustrate the main point and bring life to the essay. A listing of one’s life events is a journal, not an essay. In writing, avoid the dramatic – watch for the use of “ever, never, the most, the best, the greatest.” Look for redundancies – don’t repeat yourself. How many times is the word “that” found in the essay? A personal statement is a personal statement – no need to write “I think” or “I feel.” Take special note of word limitations and adhere to them. For some essays submitted online the computer program may not let you continue typing once you reach the word limit!
A final check of the essay should include the question: does this sound like me? Is this the way I would present my point if I were talking to someone?
It is true, writing a personal statement can be a daunting task but is manageable if you have a clear sense of what you want to say and a willingness to take the time necessary to write and rewrite.
We turn now to the front of the form and the nuts and bolts of filling out a college application. Most application forms begin with relatively easy personal data questions – name, address, birth date, parent information, and citizenship. A request for “optional” information is just that – you are not required to respond. Responses to questions in this category are typically used by colleges for statistical reports.
When asked about a possible area of academic study or major, “undecided” is appropriate if, in fact, you are undecided.
Questions related to providing educational data ask the applicant to list the current school and all secondary schools attended including summer school and summer programs. If you have taken college or university classes while a high school student you will be asked to list the courses completed and grades earned. The request for test information asks for SAT, ACT, and AP test history and plans for future testing. Note that while colleges may ask for results of all tests taken, many will select only your highest scores while considering your application.
Plan ahead and prepare – the SAT/ACT taken in the spring of the junior year and perhaps again in early fall of the senior year is the recommended sequence. Taking the SAT or ACT more than three times is not recommended.
Questions asked in the Family Information section are included to determine one’s background. Is the applicant first generation to attend college? Or, did the applicant grow up with college-educated parents in a home most likely filled with books?
The lines and spaces allotted to extracurricular activities are meant to reveal more than a listing of clubs, sports, and community service activities. Next week’s column will address the role of activities in the college application process.