The college admission essay, Hany Bauld cautioned seniors at the Horace Mann School in the Riverdale section of New York, can be the "ultimate noose with which a 17-year-old can hang himself." Bauld read hundreds of essays-turned-nooses when he worked in the admissions offices of Brown and Columbia universities. Now a writer living in Pepperell, Mass., he returns every year to Horace Mann, where he once taught English, to offer the students some strong and funny advice about the art of writing good essays.
Aside from drooling on the admission officer's oxfords, he contends, the college interview is not going to make that much difference.
"The colleges can't hold 30 minutes of white-knuckled terror against a kid who has four solid years of achievement. " he said. "Besides, the interview staffs are too large and include a lot of student interviewers. You can't count on their impressions."
But the essay, he said, is crucial for applicants, "the gray area" -which he defined as "where you're in the ball park but not one whose academic numbers make you too easy to dismiss or too overwhelming to deny."
"What matters in a big application pool is that you come alive," he said. "And you've got to come alive on paper. This is where the college can really find out whether a kid is imaginative or unresponsive.
"If your essay is No.39 in a pile of 50, and it begins, 'Hello, I am a very unique person," you're in trouble. It goes into the pile with the old potato chips."
Bauld said he dislikes that kind of autobiographical, achievement touting essay because he felt it "promotes the tone of a kid talking to an adult, a counterfeit quality that comes through right away."
There are five other stereotypes that he urged seniors to avoid:
Of course, to a certain extent, the topics are dictated by the colleges. Cornell asks applicants to write about "an intellectual, social, political or personal issue you feel is important." Wesleyan has two: "Identify a person who has had a significant influence on you and describe that influence," and, "Share with us what you believe other Wesleyan students would learn from you both inside and outside the classroom."
Stanford also requires two: "Given the authority to establish a holiday, what would you choose to commemorate?" And, "Suppose you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone. With whom would it be and how would you spend your time?"
The fact that each college comes up with an individual question --forcing applicants to write as many as a dozen different essays --leaves high school counselors annoyed and seniors anguished. But the admissions deans resist the notion of a standardized essay, arguing that they want to test teenage writing and thinking skills in their own ways. If the colleges use essay questions to filter out students, some students use the essay questions to filter out colleges. Gillan Salton, a senior at Horace Mann, said she was put off by the colleges that required "big issue" essays -"No matter how much you like to pretend, 17 -year-olds don't know that much about Nicaragua or apartheid," she said. She was attracted to schools, like Stanford, whose questions show a sense of humor.
Bauld told students that they can maneuver, no matter what the question, to add a light touch and minimize what he called "the greatest teenage crime: pomposity." "Write about what you know," he said. "Write something only you could write. If the most burning issue in your life is that when you put five pairs of socks in the dryer, you come out with a body stocking and a knit hat, write about that --not nuclear war."
By Joan McDonald
Most of these tips are in the video WRITING COLLEGE TRANSFER ESSAYS THAT WORK found in the media center. This "Tip Sheet" will serve to refresh your memory and avoid using limited time with your Writing Center Staff Person about these nitty gritty details. Remember to write your essay for your audience, not yourself! That reader knows nothing about you other than what you write. You need to make your words create a 3-dimensional real individual in the reader's mind---a person he/she wants to know more about, a person like no other! Show, don't tell.
Work hard; nothing you have ever written has had so much impact on your life. Good luck!
This is a personal statement showing who you are and some of the factors that have influenced your choice of major and the path you have followed to this point. Therefore, it is appropriate to begin sentences with "I".
The personal statement is not a creative writing exercise! Avoid cute and clever. Strive for honest, clear, and straightforward prose.
While academic scholarship is the principle factor for selection, UC campuses value diversity. Where appropriate include your ethnicity and or gender in terms of academic, financial and emotional challenges you have faced.
The opportunities for appeal of admission decisions are limited. Therefore, do your very best to produce a thoughtful, honest, well written personal statenJent, which allows the evaluators to know you.
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