Saturday, July 21, 2012

Let the blogging begin...

If you've found yourself here, it's probably because you or a family member needs help with college or grad school application essays. You've come to the right place if you have questions or concerns on what's become a very complicated endeavor.

If you went to college fifteen or twenty or more years ago, you've probably said to yourself, "It wasn't like this when I applied to college. I hand-wrote my essays, and I don't even remember what they were about." Those carefree days of E-Z essays are over, and applicants to college need more guidance than many guidance counselors have the time to provide, and than many parents know how to navigate.

If you're looking for a place to begin thinking about your college essays, or your son's or daughter's essays, please take a look at my Huffington Post piece on my website, "Zen and the Art of the College Application Essay." In many circles, students and parents are led to believe that writing about exotic travel or about far-flung destinations where students have gone to work or study are essential to writing a good essay. Such places may be good material, but they are by no means essential, as I discuss in my article.

There is no magic bullet for what makes a good essay, no formula, no one-size-fits-all answer. The central Common Application essay - 500 words - is a kind of interview with the student. It's a way for colleges to get a personal picture of who the applicant is beyond grades and SAT/ACT scores. It's a personal statement of what matters to students, how they make sense of an important experience, make sense of the world around them, or describe a key moment, a pivotal book, or a particular obstacle they overcame.

While the essays do not need to focus specifically on academic achievements, it's important to keep in mind that colleges are educational institutions, and admissions officers want to know that students are intellectually curious, academically focused, and applying to college to take advantage of educational opportunities, not merely the proximity to great skiing or the college's social scene. The essays should be personal, but they should not focus on emotional material unless it also reveals how the emotional material has influenced the student's academic development.

If you are applying to graduate school, the purpose of an essay is somewhat different, and depending on the type of grad school, it serves different purposes. For most programs, the purpose of the essay is to show the admissions office that you are serious, focused, and have had some relevant experience in the field you are pursuing. If you're applying to medical school, any experience you've had as en EMT or volunteering at a hospital or laboratory is important to describe. Summer internships and/or jobs during college and exposure to a subject are important to convey.

If you have specific questions, please write to me directly ( or through my Don't Sweat the Essay website. I look forward to hearing from you.

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