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Dear Mitch,

Do you have any more tips for what to do on the essays that we're supposed to do on the college applications?

- B.C.J.


Dear B.C.J.,

Yes, I do!

Here are a few:

Five Tips To Help on College Applications' Personal Statement Section:

1.  Despite the fact that the essay is your chance to introduce yourself and shed light on what makes you someone the college would be lucky to have as a member of its community, the fewer times you use the pronoun 'I', the better.

(This is less a stylistic suggestion than a psychological/subliminally persuasive one, and I believe it to be one of the most important quick-tips I can share in a forum of this nature.)

REASON: We know you want the school to see how wonderful you are, how committed, caring, thoughtful, tenacious, flexible and positive you are, but if you can manage to do it through your ability to see others this way, and see the world around you as a pretty good place, and you are fortunate enough and mature enough to recognize it as such, yet you also feel compelled to improve it in whatever way your skills and opportunities allow you, you will be in a better position to transcend the adolescent 'Look at me, see how great I am" spirit and demonstrate that whatever magic you have does not stop at the exhibitionist stage but comes accompanied with an awareness that -- more than just talent-in-isolation -- the world needs talent applied to benefit the community.

How to do this? I will address the methodology in an upcoming q&a.

2. If you choose to write your essay on the person you 'admire most' or the person who has had the 'greatest influence on your life', TRY TO AVOID using a famous/well-known person as your hero. And by 'famous/well-known' I am including historical figures, even relatively obscure ones.

REASON: This type of essay is most effective when there is at least one personal moment described, a moment which is unique to your essay and relays something that is NEW in some way to the reader who has probably already read a thousand times more than might guess, before ever breaking the seal of your envelope. Simply put, it's more engaging to an experienced reader to be treated to something new. Also, you do not have to waste energy worrying about getting the facts to be 100% accurate, as it is your personal recollection and therefore subject to your ability to recollect; there may be distortions of 'fact' that are true in your heart and beneficial to maintain.

3.  Focus on a specific 'event', and select the smallest event you can. In other words, if, for some reason, you decide to write about the time you managed to lift a ten-ton truck off the ground with your bare hands to save a neighbor's child, it's usually a good idea to make the focus, NOT the LIFTING of the vehicle, but a sound or facial expression you noticed just before the lifting (which snapped you into action) or a sound or expression AFTER the lifting. (Which, perhaps, made you realize that – in addition to the luck of the child and mother -- you were lucky to be there to be a part of the experience to provide help). Your action was the event, even if it hadn't turned out so well, that is an impressive display of character, courage, and yes -- strength (physical goal-oriented focus). NOT the kudos afterward.

REASON: Metaphor: Think of a large cone that is open at both ends. In fact, make one: Roll a sheet of newspaper to form such a shape. Then look through the tiny pinhole at the small end. From it you can see a whole world, with a lot of light coming in. Turn the cone around and look through the wide end – you probably won't see as much. Which is superior for a short essay, such as the one your future college will request? ANSWER: The type symbolized by the small hole vantage model. With: viewpoint close to small event, no unnecessary distance, to which you will bring lots of light.

4.  While having an authentic subject/experience that makes your tale the kind that goes directly to most people's hearts, such as being raised by two blind parents and no siblings (AN ACTUAL ESSAY THAT I WAS ONCE ASKED TO PROOFREAD FOR A COLLEGE APPLICANT), realize, of course, that most applicants do not have such a tale to tell; however, EVERYONE has engaging and moving stories to relate, and if your particular one is not so overtly dramatic, you simply need to work harder in your writing process. Also, even the most shocking stories can have their potential reduced by ineffective writing.

5.  When writing and then proofing your essay, be wary of revealing unnecessary facts that are not likely to endear you to readers from all walks of life. I remember reading students' essays in an upscale New York Waterfront community where I lived and worked for several years, and the most common surprise to me when reading students' first drafts was how readily they would allow themselves to reveal to the reader that the poignant moment happened aboard their parents' yacht, or when they were riding their prize thoroughbred horse, etc. I would ask them to role-play: I would have them reread their essay aloud, to me, and I would be a member of an admission committee who grew up on welfare and had neither horses, boats, a home, or family vehicle – but whose parents dreamed about one day having a horse to help plow the land.

They'd get the idea.

As I hinted above, this subject will be continued in upcoming q&a's, as we have received many questions regarding this topic.

Hope this helps,