Here’s a sample of a safe, boring, predictable college essay:
“Throughout my high school years, there have been many factors which have influenced my interests and personality. Being a well-rounded student, I have had many experiences working with people. I have learned a great deal through these experiences. A major influence in my life has been my family. Their love and encouragement have motivated me to expand my areas of interest. Another factor which has influenced me is my involvement in many activities outside of academics. Working with my peers in musicals, tennis, dance, volunteer work and various committees, I have gained a sense of achievement and accomplishment. I have learned to work better with people, learning the value of team effort.
In college, I plan to continue to live a well-rounded life, meeting and working with people from a variety of backgrounds. I want to help people. I have gotten so much out of life through the love and guidance of my family, I feel that many individuals have not been as fortunate; therefore, I would like to expand the lives of others. I am excited about the possibility of attending COLLEGE X. I feel that I am ready for college. I am ready to accept the challenge of the academics. I plan to give my best to COLLEGE X, knowing that COLLEGE X will do the same for me. “
Admissions personnel read stuff like this all day long. It is not, however, the kind of essay they remember, nor the kind that sends a borderline application to the committee for reconsideration. At a highly competitive school, it’s the kind of essay that might be classified dead on arrival. Most important of all, this is not the kind of essay students want to write.
This is a safe essay. I refer to them as “Miss America” essays because they are frequently full of clichés about saving the world and creating world peace. When students talk in generalities and don’t really share anything about themselves, the essays don’t have much personality. Parke Muth, senior assistant dean and director of international admission at the University of Virginia, has written a wonderful piece on “McEssays,” in which he analyzes what he calls “fast food essays” (http://www.virginia.edu/undergradadmission/writingtheessay.html). He offers insights into what makes an essay good, bad or risky.
The generic essay describes an ideal student – eager, involved, loyal, committed, responsible, etc. But it reads exactly like that – a generic picture, not a real person. It doesn’t help the candidate because it’s not focused and it lacks insights into what the student is really all about. The applicant has made it really hard to “like” them. Admissions representatives want to “like” the applicants they advocate for. Students need to set themselves apart.
Next week: Tips on how to write an essay that makes a good impression.
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com
Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/10/18/2701078/the-safe-predictable-essay-will.html#ixzz1b8ZD13iE