"It’s not just a resume or a regurgitation of everything you’ve done," Morrissey says. "It needs to tell a story with passion, using personal, entertaining anecdotes that showcase your character, your interests, your values, your life experiences, your views of the world, your ambitions and even your sense of humor."
That's a tall order, to be sure, and pretty daunting to a lot of rising seniors. But consider the stakes. College is a lot tougher than it was 10 or 20 years ago -- for a whole list of reasons -- and "the personal essay and interview can often make the difference — either way," according to Morrissey.
Keys that I teach about college essays will take you a long way, and hopefully will lead to an admissions officer to paying attention and moving you on to the next step.
- This isn't a term paper. Don't write like you're in English class. Talk about yourself, be descriptive, have some fun, surprise the reader.
- Be genuine. Don't try to be something, or someone, you're not. The idea is to let people know who you are and why you'd contribute to their freshman class.
- Hook the reader, then reel them in. Don't dump all you want to say in your first paragraph. Drop little hints of what's to come and make someone curious to read the next paragraph. And the next.
- Tell a story. Your story.
Use straightforward language. Tell the story of a day in your life that gives a little "snapshop" about your humanity. Watch this video to see more about your essay from Robert Springall, former dean of admissions at Bucknell University and now vice president for enrollment management at Muhlenberg College.
Watch the video:
That's the proposition offered by Brennan Barnard, writing for Forbes. Rather than perfection, your goal should be to present yourself in your own voice, says Barnard, director of college counseling and outreach at The Derryfield School in Manchester, New Hampshire.
"Writing about one’s self is perhaps one of the greatest challenges in college admission, especially for the overachieving perfectionist," according to Barnard. Your essay "is not just about how you write but also how vulnerable you are willing to be."
Barnard offers seven tips for writing a strong college essay. And he quotes Todd Rinehart, vice chancellor for enrollment at The University of Denver:
"Committees aren't looking for the perfect essay, topic or set of activities and achievement. We simply want an interesting, authentic and well-written glimpse into a student's life."
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.