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Be Yourself When You Write College Essays

Original post made by Doing College, another community, on Jun 12, 2012

A Reader Writes:

Dear Dr. LaScala,

Our family reads your articles all the time. There is so much written about the college essay, we would like your thoughts on the subject. Our son will be tackling this task in the fall when he starts putting together his college applications.

Loyal Reader in Alamo

Dear Loyal Reader in Alamo,

First off, NOW is the time for students to start thinking about their college application essays. By starting this summer, the task is less stressful. By understanding the process, it becomes less mysterious. By getting something on paper, it becomes less daunting.

Next, the sagest advice is to write naturally and choose topics that reveal your personal qualities and unique experiences. College admissions officers across the country are pleading "just be you." This is in part in response to students who tense up so much around the writing component that they are either in a state of frenzy or deep freeze. Both seem to result in procrastination.

College admissions staff also bemoan the appearance of too many passionless, cookbook recipe essays. This type of essay lacks soul and leaves the reader feeling disconnected to the student and disappointed. The "professionalized" application is too perfect to be true. In part this can be traced to parental "meddling" and in part to the increased role of college admission consultants. While these professionals can and do provide a wide array of useful services, some have a tendency to twist and spin student writing to the point that it distorts the process and removes the individuality of the student. The staff who review applications on the college admissions side of the fence know how 17 year-olds speak and write. If you can write naturally (and without the direct interference of a well-meaning adult), your personality is more likely to shine through the entire application process, including the essay writing and interviews.

Admissions officers themselves attribute the lack of authenticity and sincerity to overanxious students and adult meddling that leach the soul out of an application. And an over-polished application is not the only problem admissions officers are seeing. Another issue is that students are not taking the time to find schools that best accommodate their needs. Growing numbers of highly competitive high school students vying for spots at selective colleges often set aside the idea of a "good fit" and settle for the biggest name school that offers admission. It is wise to remember that quality trumps quantity every time. College applications that are submitted to a shorter list of good match schools and include essays that are thoughtful, personal and reflect a sustained and sincere effort to get to know each college ultimately enjoy better outcomes.

Since many students do want support to jump start the essay writing process, students can certainly feel free to participate in a college essay workshop. Just keep in mind the tips outlined above. Steer clear of formulaic approaches and over tinkering with your college application essays. And remember that colleges are looking for people that will best enrich their campus community. In that sense, they are also looking to make a good match.


Doing College [Web Link essay workshop] is holding summer essay workshops in July and August. The goal of the essay workshop is help the student understand and begin the essay writing process. Using fun warm-up exercises, we help each student find his or her own voice, relax and write naturally, thereby personalizing the college application.

Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She develops best match college lists, offers personalized interview and essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize merit and financial aid awards. Visit www.doingcollege.com; Call (925) 891-4491 or email at elizabeth@doingcollege.com

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