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The Catch-22 of College Admissions Essays

9 Sep

It feels like a set-up. First, you are supposed to reveal how wonderful you are in 500 words–about the number you can cram onto a postcard in your teensiest handwriting. Second, you must sell yourself to the college of your dreams—setting yourself apart from the thousands of other equally wonderful students–but appear humble and likeable at the same time. Third, no one has ever taught you how to write this type of essay, called a personal narrative. No one. Ever!

I call this impossible challenge the Catch 22 of College Essays, at least the part about saying how great you are and staying meek at the same time. You know, make an impression but don’t dare try to impress anyone!! No wonder you are stressed out!!!

The best way to handle this challenge–and I have detailed how to do this all over my blog–is to stick with a story. And it doesn’t have to be a life-changing, mind-blowing event, either. In a weird way that I don’t quite understand, the less impressive the story—the more basic, simple, everyday, mundane it is—the better it will go over.

Here’s how it works: When you tell your story, you naturally show the reader about yourself. You can avoid that awkward tone of voice that sounds boastful when you describe yourself: I’m a really creative person. I’m really passionate. I’m really great at solving problems. For some reason, when you hear someone say something like that, your first reaction is to think, with great sarcasm, “Oh, you are, are you? Well, good for you!” Whereas, if you just describe the time you built a ten-foot sculpture out of driftwood, feathers, dryer lint and goat hair, the reader might think, without a hint of sarcasm, “Wow, that’s pretty cool. That girl sounds creative.” See the difference?

I know I’ve hammered on this, but find your anecdotes, your examples, interesting moments, and just describe what happened—and then examine what you learned from them. It’s hard to go wrong with a story.

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Good Topics: See for yourself!

4 Jun

Today, I’m going to try to practice what I preach (in this blog) and Show instead of Tell you the difference between good topics and bad topics:

BAD

  • The Time I Climbed Mount Everest
  • My Mission Trip to Costa Rica
  • The Day We Won the State Championship
  • Why I Hate Writing Admissions Essays
  • The Day My Beloved Dog Spot Died
  • Why I Love to Tutor Kids
  • What I Learned in Model UN

GOOD

  • Why I’m a Karaoke Queen
  • An Afternoon Working at In and Out Burger
  • My Grandmother’s Hands
  • I Make the Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich
  • Taming the Beast—My Frizzy Red Hair
  • Ode to my TI-89 (Calculator)
  • My Obsession with Spiderman Comics

Do you See the difference? Okay, I can’t help myself. Now I’m going to Tell you about the differences. The bad topics are too general, they try to impress, they are overused, they most likely will be boring (Do they make you want to read them?). The good topics are specific, they are not trying to impress anyone (“mundane” is good!!), they are unique, and they make you want to read them.