All right juniors, I know I’ve been ignoring you, but let’s be honest, those pesky seniors need all the help they can get at this point (#EDdeadlines #jesustakethewheel #youguysgetALLtheattentioncomeJanuary)
You’re a few months into the year. You have finally settled into the spinning top of…
How to Write a “Why Us” Essay - Part 1: How NOT to Write Your Essay
It’s Early Action time, and many of you are writing your “Why us” college application statements. After reading many bad ones and a few good ones, I’ve put together this list of DOs and DON’Ts.
Let’s start with the DON’Ts:
DON’T: Write about the school’s size, location, reputation or the weather.
Why? Because that’s what half of America is writing about. Take a hint from Emory University, whose “Why us” essay used to read:
"Many students decide to apply to Emory University based on our size, location, reputation, and yes, the weather. Besides these valid reasons as a possible college choice, why is Emory University a particularly good match for you?"
Why do you think they say don’t write about those things? Because they’re tired of reading about those things.
In fact, here’s what to do after you’ve written your first draft: Go back through your essay and underline anything that sounds like it could have appeared in another student’s essay. Then delete it.
In your “Why us” essay you’re making a case, and the case is this: “You [the school] and I [the student] are a perfect match.” But…
[More: How to Write a “Why Us” Essay]
Imagine a box. In this box is a set of objects. Each object is one of your essence objects. What do I mean? Each object represents something personal for you. For example, in my essence object box I would place this.
Why a green pen? I grade all my students’ essays in green because when a student gets an essay back and it’s covered in red marks it can tend to look bloody, like a battlefield. But if a student gets an essay back that’s covered in green it looks verdant. Also, red means “stop” (like a stoplight), while green says “keep going.” And that’s the essence I want to communicate to my students: keep going. So this green pen to me is more than a green pen; it’s an essence object.
Make a list of 20 essence objects. Each one should connect to some deeper aspect of who you are. If you’d like to hear my voice leading you through this exercise, go here.
2. 21 Details
Make a list of 21 specific, concrete, random details that make you, well, you. Stuff like:
We moved 20 times while I was growing up and I attended 13 schools.
My biggest pet peeve is when the waiter takes my food before I’ve finished.
I eat salad with my hands. And never with dressing.
This is particularly good to spark ideas for the short answer questions that you’ll write for schools like USC and Stanford. For more on this exercise, plus more examples, go here.
3. Because I am _________ , you can count on me to _________.
a. Divide your paper into two columns
b. At the top of the left side write “Because I am…” and at the top of the right side write “You can count on me to…”
c. Find a partner and give him or her your paper. You answer aloud the prompt “Because I am… you can count on me to…” while your partner writes down what you say. Then switch papers and have your partner speak aloud a series of answers to “Because I am… you can count on me to…” while you write. Take maybe 5-10 minutes each. Whoever is writing can also ask small follow up questions to help the speaker go deeper, or draw out details.
If you’re looking for ways to take your college essay to the next level, Our expert teachers and consultants are here to help. Contact your local Elite branch about college application services.
An Open Love Letter to the Authors of University of California Personal Statement Prompt #1
Dear person(s) who wrote University of California Personal Statement Prompt #1:
I love you.
By inviting students to dig deep into their personal histories and to make important connections, you have enriched both their lives and mine. Responding to the prompt has helped more than a few of my students discover important truths about themselves.
There was my student who grew up as an introvert, with parents who worked late. Because he was so often alone, he “retreated to fantasy books,” he wrote in his essay, “filling the void of loneliness with spaceships exploring distant galaxies, enchanted forests of knights and dragons.” During a family trip to Hawaii he looked out a submarine porthole to “the vast blue canvas of the sea” and saw the turtles and sharks as “life processes” and became convinced that “one could only come closer to understanding the world at the intersection between the real and the imaginary: only when one had feet planted in both worlds could one fully appreciate the ordered beauty of nature and life” and he ultimately realized that Biology offered “objectivity and a science with which [he] could apply [his] imagination to real world mechanics.”
And then there was my student whose interest in the human body was sparked when, at six, she inadvertently opened up an adult film on her computer. She was confused at first, then curious, then ashamed, when her parents walked in and told her what she was looking at was wrong. As she grew up she worked through the shame, the curiosity stayed, and she ended up wanting to become a doctor.
Q: How many essays will I need to write?
A: Depends. If you’re applying to the UCs, you’ll write the Common App main statement, UC 1, UC 2, plus supplements, which number anywhere from 6-20, depending on the number of schools you apply to.
Q: How long should my essays be?
A: Your main essay can be up to 650 words (on the Common App); your supplemental essays will vary.
Q: When are my essays due?
A: Depends on the school. Go to www.CommonApp.org and open an account if you haven’t. Add the schools to which you’re applying. Click on each school to find out its due date.