US Universities – the Essay!

Advice from Kathy Compagnon –

When you look over the topics of essays, you will probably feel daunted and a bit at a loss. You’re 17 or 18, you haven’t done anything to save the world: what can you possibly say? Fear not. You have lots to say; you have to be brutally honest with yourself, unembarrassed about revealing yourself, a bit creative, but never phoney, and willing to brag without sounding obnoxious or pretentious.

Bottom line: these schools want to know that you have an interesting mind and a lot of intellectual curiosity. They view learning as a two-sided affair, an exchange or a social contract. They know what they have to offer you; they want to know what you have to offer in return. You have to convince them that you’re worth it.

While all the topics sound slightly different, they are all asking basically the same question: What makes you different and intriguing. The answer comes not so much from what you’ve done, but from how you THINK about it, how your mind works. What you write about might be simple and banal (an argument with a friend, someone you met on a train, tripping in the hallway); what makes it interesting is what you learned from it and how you express yourself.

A good way to start is to make three columns:

Column one: The school’s questions.

Column two: Adjectives that honestly and genuinely describe you. Think in terms of what you really want them to know about you.

Column three: events or activities that mean something to you (sports, school, activities, multiculturalism, languages, friends). For general activities, try to find an aspect you can focus on.

Match up the columns.

Writing: You want your reader to want to read your essay. Remember they are reading literally thousands of them. Take pity on them and write something that is a pleasure to read. By doing so, you will make yourself an interesting candidate. It is often wise to start with a short narrative scene to draw them in. Then build on the basis of that scene a larger statement about yourself, using the ideas developed in your column work. The narrative part will also give validity to your larger statements.

Give yourself time to write several drafts. Have other people you trust read it, preferably someone familiar with US universities, but remember this is YOUR statement. Make sure you believe what you are saying, and that even if your accomplishments sound somewhat embellished, the overall image is indeed you.