Gimmicks vs. Your Genuine Self
Gimmicks are “prevalent but hard to explain,” said an admissions officer at a women’s college. You want to showcase your strengths, she said, not try your hand at something new on your application. Your college application essay is not the time to dabble in writing a sonnet if you’ve never written one before.
The Mistake of Modesty
Spell-Check… Then Proofread
BOTH need to be a top priority. Spelling and grammar check is useful for catching those typos you’re making at 2 a.m. when you’re sprinting to the finish line, but proofreading is a horse of a different color.
Buttrey, the Carleton College admissions representative, points out that students “know to do that for their English essays that they hand in at school, so why can’t they do it for a college application essay?”
Beyond spell-check, proofreading was mentioned across the board as a non-negotiable. “We have read essays where students talk about ‘peasant hunting’ as a favorite pastime,” an admissions representative from an elite all-women’s college told me. (The applicant clearly enjoys ‘pheasant hunting’).
Spell-check isn’t going to pick up on that error, because ‘peasant’ is spelled correctly. So be sure to proofread your writing more than once, because you don’t want your future college to think you enjoy hunting humans for sport.
Creative Writing Aside, Don’t Forget to Answer the Question!
The questions are designed the way they are for a reason. So answer what they are asking. The Common Application has five pre-determined topics an applicant can pick from, in writing his or her college essay. Once you pick one, stick to it. “For example, if an essay question is asking you to describe a moment you’ve experienced failure and what you learned from it, don’t talk about how much you love your family’s yearly camping trip,” one admissions representative recalled.
“Let’s say the question asks you to describe a time where you chose the path less taken, or did something separately from the pack. Actually answer that question,” the representative continued. “Don’t make the mistake of defiantly proclaiming that you are not answering the question, and that THIS is the path less taken. One, you’re missing out on an opportunity to highlight you, and two, it’s not nearly as rebellious as you think it is. It’s been done before, and just doesn’t look good.”
Some applicants see these predefined topics as obstacles to navigate around, in writing about what they want to write about. But the experts agree: These topics, and questions, matter. And not answering the question stands out in a very bad way, regardless of how well your essay is written.
Leave the texting lingo behind when communicating with admissions offices at the schools to which you are applying. Kthx. “When communicating with admissions officers, always be respectful and professional,” wrote one admissions representative. “It is not appropriate to use texting language in emails to admissions officers. Beginning an email with ‘Hey Mary’ or ‘Hey Ms. Smith’ is not professional.”