The Importance of the College Essay
by Ariela Buxbaum-Grice on Friday, May 16th, 2014
As the seniors of the Class of 2014 begin to wrap up their stays at Milton Academy, this year’s junior class prepares to become the school’s new leaders—by taking part in the delights unique to senior year, like College Office assemblies. Last Wednesday, May 7th, the Class of 2015 attended its first. College Office Director Mr. Skinner opened the assembly by explaining how the essay component of the Common Application is one of the few elements over which students have complete control. Admissions officers who read these personal essays gauge the decisions students make, both as writers and as thinkers. Good essays, according to Mr. Skinner, “make the student jump off the page.” The essay, he continued, is a way to convey emotions, ideas, and past experiences.
When writing a college essay, students should ask themselves, “What story about my life thus far do I continue to think about?” While application essays usually follow a storyline, Mr. Skinner stressed that some of the best essays elaborate on a mere moment in time. The one rule that applies to all is that the essay should illustrate who you are as a person; sometimes true character presents itself most vividly in life’s seemingly insignificant moments, and this vibrancy can make a student stand out to the exhausted admissions officer pouring over thousands of application essays. “The engines of good writing are nouns and verbs,” Mr. Skinner reminded students.
He also mentioned that the strongest college essays are interesting not only in their perspective but also in their honesty and authenticity. He explained that when the voice of the writer is present in the essay, it will effectively depict the applicant. In other words, students should avoid making jokes if they are not naturally funny—and, more generally, that they should “dare to be true” in respect to their natural writing styles. Mr. Skinner explained that most college essays should be “middlebrow”, advising that a student’s writing show some intensity and sophistication but not sound overly formal or too casual.
Some students were also relieved to learn that, while the essay is an important part of the college application, it does not ultimately dictate whether a prospective applicant will be admitted or rejected. Mr. Skinner told a story of a former student who had written a college essay that was intended to be comical but was interpreted as obnoxious to the point of being painful to read. Mr. Skinner, realizing that the essay would be detrimental to his advisee’s application, contacted the student’s “dream school” and explained that the essay was not an accurate depiction of its writer. The college was initially planning on deferring the student, but Mr. Skinner was able to convince them to disregard the essay and reconsider its decision.
Some students found this example of the College Office’s intervention concerning. Santiago Vivar (II) said, “I was concerned when Mr. Skinner told the anecdote about the faulty essay one student submitted and how the college office handled it with a phone call. I don’t think that motivates students to write a well thought out essay.” Most, however, were relieved: Mark Iraheta (II) felt that the assembly served to “calm my nervousness about my college essay.” Others felt that they didn’t learn anything new from the presentation. Tegan Treacy (II), for example, described the assembly as “generally helpful, particularly for those who are the first of their family to go through this process; however, the content of the lecture really covered only the basics of the process as well as common sense.”
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