Contributed by: Jake Rosen
Welcome back. In last month’s newsletter, I laid out the first and second steps in this four-step guide to writing a great college admissions essay. Before reading on, I’d go back and read (or re-read) Part I, which includes Step One: Don’t Panic and Step Two: Guided Brainstorm.
Ready for more? Let’s get to it.
Step Three: Create a map; see where it leads (and remember this first draft is just that, a first draft!)
You are (almost) ready to write. Your admissions essay is unlike the essays you write in English and History classes in many ways, but it is similar in one critical way: you still need an outline! Whatever you decide to write about, it’s helpl to think of your admissions essay as a story you are telling about yourself. Good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The best stories have dramatic tension, unexpected twists, memorable characters, vivid imagery, etc. If possible (spoiler alert: it is possible), your story should have all of these things too.
“But my life is not filled with amazing, college-essay-worthy stories,” you may be thinking. To which I’d reply: unless you have been living under a rock since nursery school, I guarantee that you have at least ONE interesting story to tell about yourself. Still not convinced? Use the following questions as inspiration:
What’s the toughest lesson you ever had to learn, and how did that lesson help to make you the person you are today?
What was your proudest moment? What led to that moment?
What was the best day, or the worst day, of your entire life?
What secret, special talent do you possess, and what does it say about you? (Note: We’re not talking superhero stuff. If I were answering this question, I’d say that I am able to open any jar, no matter how stuck. And the personal statement I’d write about my jar-opening skills would probably be more memorable to admissions people than the overdone “I went to South America this summer and I built houses for Habitat and it was soooo amazing and now I understand poverty and privilege” essay)
Once you settle on a story, lay out a quick, bullet point outline with the “moment of truth” either in the middle of the story, or, for dramatic effect, right at the beginning. Then, write!
You may want to draft your essay over two or three days. Write when you’re feeling inspired; stop when you run out of gas. At this point, though, your job is just to get a draft down on paper. You can always rework your story from there. Don't forget that your story needs a narrative arc and a good ending, which in this case, should focus on how you became a wiser/stronger/more complete human as a result of your “moment of truth” experience. Bonus points if your reader comes away with an understanding of exactly why this “new you” would make an awesome addition to campus.
Not happy with your first draft? Good. That means you’re ready for…
Step Four: Review/Revise/Rewrite
Although you have already come a long way on the road to a great college essay, you are not there yet. Even strong first drafts need to be carefully revised. Here’s how to go about it:
Start with the structure of your essay. Re-read what you have so far and compare it to your outline. Does your essay tell a story? Do you learn something significant about your “main character”? Does your story have a point that comes across clearly? If you cannot answer “yes” to all three questions, rework/add to your draft until you can!
Next, turn to the style of your personal statement. Do you have a punchy opening line? You should. Do you end on a high note? You should. Do you include some evocative language and memorable imagery? It’s important that you do. Your readers want more than just a coherent story; they want to know that you can write. Writing is an art. Add some color to your draft. Paint a picture worth looking at more than once. Then, when you believe you are finished, proofread, proofread, and proofread again. Your final draft should have ZERO spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes.
And now, at last, you’re (almost!) ready to send your statement out to admissions offices. Before you do, though, have someone look over it to make sure it’s 100% ready to go. Consider any suggestions, and fix any spelling and grammar mistakes, but don’t let them re-write your work. Colleges want to know who you are, and they want to hear your voice.
Jake Rosen, Founder & Lead Coach, Launchpad Coaching has more than a decade of experience as a classroom teacher, academic and college advisor, and teenage life-coach.