The questions should be basic to any senior who's now working on his or her college essays. In this case, those questions are coming from Emily Roper-Doten, associate director of admissions at Tufts University. Roper-Doten and others from the Tufts Admissions Office were interviewed on video by Lauren Day and Chandler Coble, members of the Class of 2017, who asked about essay-writing advice.
"It takes a lot more thought than it does writing sometimes," Roper-Doten said. "Students will slave over what's the right word. You're never going to have the right word if you don't have the right idea to begin with."
Other advice Day and Coble heard:
Justin Pike, assistant director of admissions: "As yourself 'Why?' five times, because if you can do that, you're going to achieve something that's more authentic to you."
Edward Picket III, assistant director of admissions: "The best essays are about the smallest moments, because they make the biggest impact."
See more advice from Tufts in this video:
This time of year -- well, at most times of the year -- just about everyone has a list. They're lists of how to prepare for writing your college essay, how to come up with the title and how to prepare yourself emotionally for the admittedly daunting task.
But I came across an unusual take on the list from Kasey Carlson and Whitney Young, writing on The Mash, the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written by teens for teens:
- Don't choose your prompt first. "It seems like common sense to pick a prompt that speaks to you and roll with it." But Sarah McGinty, author of The College Application Essay, told the writers to “Back into the question and first decide what message (you’d) like to get across with (your) essay.”
- Treat your essay like a bonus. “Your application should be like The Wizard of Oz, McGinty said. “It goes from black-and-white to color when the reader reaches your essay.” Think of your essay as a place to share things about yourself that might get lost in your resume.
- Don't ignore the prompt. “Sometimes students can be a little too focused on bells and whistles, but have an unclear conclusion to their essay,” explained Allison Bevan, associate director of admissions at Northwestern University.
- Be yourself. Students sometimes end up writing what they think a college admissions officer would want to read rather than allowing their personalities to shine through, according to Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, founder of admissionpossible.com.
- Remember to proofread. Not just yourself, either. Have multiple people proofread your essay, Shaevitz said.
- Remember, it’s just an essay. Every school weights college essays differently, Bevan said, and while It has potential as a great resource, a less-than-perfect writing sample isn’t the end of the world.
For all the essay tips I've seen, Ed Fessler recently surprised me surprised me with one.
Dean of students at Sheridan (Wyo.) High School, Fessler urges students to be honest when writing college essays.
“One wants to be candidly honest as to any assertions they make regarding themselves. Include critical information regarding your history, aspirations and why their particular school is the ideal fit," Fessler told Sheridan Press writer Christina Schmidt. "Keep in mind that your goal is to tell a story about yourself that leaves the selection committee with the hope of learning more about you in the future.”
And more advice from Fessler on the importance of your essay in today's competitive admissions environment:
“If schools have a number of potential applicants that are equal in terms of grade-point average and college-entrance exam score, the strength of the essay becomes perhaps the most important component used to separate similar applicants.”
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