Last week I listened to a Webinar conducted by Ethan Sawyer, who calls himself “The College Essay Guy.” Sawyer is quite a performer, but he is also a very good writer and marketer. His advice is sound as well as entertaining. However, while he went to great lengths to discuss how to write a good college essay, he shied away from talking about how to write a bad one. This is a good time to raise this issue. Many college-bound rising high school seniors are working on their college essays.
In my view a college essay has one major purpose: to get an admissions officer who reads it to check off “yes” and advance an application to the next stage of approval, whether it be another reader or an admissions committee.
Getting to yes is less likely for applicants who:
These are the more obvious reasons that essays fail to lead to a positive outcome. There are less obvious ones. These are:
In trying to get an admissions officer to yes at a school that can turn applicants away, a college-bound student needs to either show that s/he has challenged themselves, preferably towards a cause or a career direction or that s/he has been through some extraordinary circumstances and come out of them successfully, at least towards showing that s/he is capable of doing academic work on a higher level. The college essay is not a place to make excuses for why you could not perform at a better level in high school when nothing was stopping you from doing so.
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