The life of an admissions officer can be a fascinating one. I spend a lot of time traveling to faraway places to meet students from around the world, voting in committee to help determine each next college class, but I am perhaps most privileged to have a unique glimpse into the personal lives of hundreds of 17 year olds each year via my absolute favorite art form: the college essay. After 5 years I have read thousands of these 650-word windows into the minds of high school students, and can assure you that the college essay comes in many flavors: good, bad, eloquent, conversational, sarcastic, insightful, deep, shallow, hilarious, painful, delightful, disturbing, and so on.
For any high school senior working on their college applications, the essay can seem like a daunting task. For Yale, you’ll even have to write more than one. I hope you see this not as a burden or a hoop you must jump through, but an opportunity: to reflect on your past few years and look ahead to college. The skills of reflection, self-expression, and cogent writing are all ones that will serve you well in college (in fact, they will be critical), so consider this practice. You do not have to be the world’s most eloquent wordsmith to write a successful college essay; the best essays we read are those where the genuine voice of a high school student (that’s you!) comes through loud and clear and we really get a sense of who you are.
When I talk to prospective Yalies about the application process, I am often asked what my favorite essay topic is. I assure you there is no such thing. The quality of a college essay has little to do with topic, and everything to do with reflection and voice. I truly believe I could read 100 essays about the same topic, each of them completely unique and in their own ways excellent and entrancing (or not). There are certainly amusing trends that emerge over time: in the past few years, I’ve seen an uptick in essays reflecting on life lessons learned from Uber drivers. I’m told that 10 years ago, essays explaining what Hogwarts House one belongs in were abundant. I wouldn’t dare say that there are any essay topics you should shy away from, because I’m certain that a great college essay could be written about nearly anything. And it doesn’t matter if we’ve read about it before – only you can write about you.
I do have favorite essays that I can remember, but they have no particular topic in common. Instead, they are the ones where at the end I have a grasp on what it might be like to have a conversation with the writer, to be in the same room as them. This is what we mean when we talk about voice. Revise and edit, but be sure not to lose the sense of individuality that only you can put into words. Have someone proofread, but don’t get too much help. My colleagues and I can tell when an essay is written more by a parent or, dare I even say it, a college consultant than by a student – and I can promise you that those pieces are not very good.
While your grades and test scores will speak for themselves and your teachers and counselor will write on your behalf, the essays are your opportunity to really take control of your application. Every required bit of writing should be considered precious real estate on your applications; think about what you want us to know about you, and do your best to work that information into the space allotted. It is through these essays that your admissions officer revels in your successes, shares in your disappointments, gets to know – forgive the cliché – the real you. So get writing. We can’t wait to hear from you.
Just when the four appplicants are denied an interview with the ''Adviser of Odds'' (the Wizard), the ''Good Babe of the West Coast'' (the Good Witch of the West) appears.
'' 'Chill out,' she said. 'Scarecrow, you won't need brains if you take an S.A.T. prep course. Sterling, don't worry; hearts hardly count. Dandelion, you are unlikely to work no matter where you go, but you would not be alone at Harvard. And now you Dorothy. All along you have had the ivy slippers. Nothing can stand in your way. You are going to Brown.' '' And Dorothy (Mr. Cooper) did. A One-Act Musical
Among the ''Offbeat Essays,'' Matt Weingarden, a Yale applicant, wrote a one-act musical in which he plays himself. His best friend is named Sponge and a chorus comments on Matt's description of why he wants Yale and why Yale should want him. To the tune of ''When Johnny Comes Marching Home,'' the chorus sings: ''Oh, Matt is applying to Yale on his knees, Accept! Accept! Academically, socially, artistically, he's Adept! Adept! With his sharp sense of humor he knocks us all out, He is the candidate we highly tout And our song may be stale But Matt ought to get into Yale.
One admissions officer, Dan Lundquist of the University of Pennsylvania, cautions that ''witty'' essays often fall flat and that admissions officers view them as ''inappropriate or even obnoxious.''
Besides giving words of caution and examples of what worked, the book also offers concrete suggestions about writing admissions essays: Give yourself time to think of your essay; write a time-line of your life, noting important events; discuss essay topics with friends, parents, teachers; make sure you answer the question appropriately; let your essay sit for a while; check the spelling, grammar and punctuation, and check it for wordiness.
What essay works best? ''Honesty, brevity, risk-taking, self-revelation, imaginativeness and fine writing,'' says one admissions officer. ''If a student reads his application before mailing it and can say 'this sounds like me,' then he's probably written the best essay possible.''Continue reading the main story