Yep, your college essay -- the very thing that's supposed to set you apart from the crowd, show who your really are and give you the chance to shine -- was scary enough to actually turn students away.
At the same time, the University of Pennsylvania, which asked for one less essay from this year's applicants, saw a 15 percent increase in applications.
“Twice as many essays at twice the length was too much,” one student who decided against applying told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Swarthmore plans to require only one 250-word supplemental essay next year, the newspaper reports.
There's a lesson to be learned here. (Yes, there's "a lesson to be learned" everywhere.) Your college essay certainly is important -- it's critical, some would argue -- and it's worth the effort. For those students who might have applied to Swarthmore, and gotten in, they've lost a significant experience in their lives that they can't ever reclaim.
I counsel students all the time to shun cliches in their essays, but I'll break my own rule here. It's worth the effort to really go for something you really want. Sure, some of those students won't ever miss not attending Swarthmore, but some will. They'll miss the life experiences, the campus activities and the lifelong friends they would have made there.
Something worthwhile is worth going for, working working for, worth making the effort for. Writing a quality college essay is hard work. But for some, it was a cop-out to skip their Swarthmore application over an additional essay.
"Starting college essays with a bang is fundamentally important."
Insightful words written on The Ivy Coach blog.
"You need to grab that college admissions counselor by the shoulders right away and let them know that you’re different, that this college essay isn’t going to be like the previous 200. This college essay is going to be different."
I earned my "editing chops" in the newspaper business, where editors -- my editors when I was a young cub reporter and then me when I began editing others -- would stress the beginning of an article, the lead (or the "lede," in newspaper jargon). It's got to grab the reader, I'd say, If you don't grab the reader from the beginning, if he or she reads the first couple of words and then turns to another story, they're lost, no matter how important that article is.
Same with your essay. No matter how good it is, no matter how well it's written or what window it opens on your true self, if that admission counselor is bored after the first sentence or two, your odds of getting into the "yes" pile just dropped dramatically.
"Most college applicants just don’t know how to do this," according to The Ivy Coach blog. "They don’t know what’s compelling. They don’t know how to change peoples’ emotions through their writing. They haven’t honed their craft enough to understand just how to do that."
Those are the things you need to learn to do.
Beware of the pitfalls of college-essay writing, advises Carol Barash.
Barash -- founder and CEO of Story To College, a college-prep service -- uses her blog to warn of 10 traps to avoid when writing your college essay. Here's a sampling:
- Don't rehash your academic and extracurricular accomplishments. "Your school work and out-of-school work already show up in your transcript and lists of awards and activities. Essays provide another dimension."
- Don't pontificate. "Do not ever tell other people what they should think. Don’t plead your case. Don’t be right or make someone else wrong. It’s great to be engaged in activist work, but show yourself doing the work rather than using your essay as a platform to make your case."
- Don't show your essay to too many people. "Share prudently. Students often show their essays to teachers, counselors, parents and friends. Each person has a different idea about what you 'should' write, and before you know it you’ve lost the heart of the essay that’s your unique spirit."
Arnie Rosenberg is the founder of The Center for Essay Excellence. He writes regularly about college essays and their importance to the college-admission process. Contact him at Arnie.Rosenberg.Editor@gmail.com.
© 2014 The Center for Essay Excellence