Supplemental Essay Example #2: Discuss an important local, national, or international issue and its importance to you.

Again, this is not the place to superficially summarize. To discuss means to think critically about a topic and to analyze it in depth. When faced with this question, most students write about major, complex, and global issues such as the detrimental effects of global warming on the environment. Such broad topics are unoriginal and impersonal. Choose a smaller issue or one that you can actually affect with your “one person” actions. The point of this, as with any essay, is to reveal something about yourself. Maybe there were too many homeless people in your local community so you started organizing students to volunteer at the soup kitchen after school. Maybe religious intolerance bothers you, so you started reading various religions’ core texts in order to have a more unbiased point of view on such an important aspect of people’s lives. Whatever you choose to write about, be sure to make it as much about you as possible.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Supplemental Essay Example #1: Evaluate an important experience and its impact on you.

If you are ever asked to “evaluate” anything, your response must involve critical thinking and analysis. A summary of the experience is necessary to provide context, but the meat of your essay should be your discussion on how the experience affected you for the better. (College essays should always be focused on positive change and self-growth, so if an experience made you cynical or pessimistic, choose another one.).

Many students have difficulty coming up with a “significant” experience as they deem their high school lives too trivial. Even if you haven’t yet stepped into the “real world,” you’ve definitely had important moments. What about the first time you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? Or an epiphany you had—perhaps realizing you need to make your own decisions, no matter how much they may defy your parents’ wishes? Even choosing an uncommon major can be an exciting risk to write about. Don’t worry if you haven’t rescued anyone or changed the world yet—you are still a teenager.

Don’t brag! It is too obvious when students are using their essays to show off about a success—be it scoring the winning goal in the soccer championships or being voted class president among fierce competition. These topics are fine if and only if you are very wary of your tone. In order not to come off as a self-consumed egotist, make sure to convey appreciation for the involved community, be it teammates or voters. Colleges want applicants who will play an active role in the student body, so be to include those who accompanied you toward success.

Show your character. This is your chance to reveal your personality, values, and sense of humor. While exploring an experience’s impact on you, be sure to convey a sense of self-awareness, community, and humility.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Stylistic Tips: What to Avoid

Wordiness and repetition. More often than not, students can cut at least a quarter of their essays and lose no meaningful content. Avoid repetition, fluff, and verbal fillers—there is no place for excess in a piece which is meant to be as engaging and effective as possible.

Making your essays dramatic, boring, or impenetrable.

Vague language. Never use words like “stuff” or “things;” they are far too imprecise. Even writing “this aspect of society bothers me…” is too unclear. What “aspect” are you specifically talking about? Do you really mean society as a whole, or just one specific group? Be clear and remember that admissions officers are not mind readers.

Clichéd metaphors, similes, phrases, or expressions. For example, avoid: “He is one in a million,” and terms such as “my global perspective” or “my potential as a future leader.” Clichés make essays sound uninspired and unoriginal—could you really not come up with a way to say something that hasn’t already been overused to the point of exhaustion? Clichés only show a writer’s lack of creativity.

Overusing the first-person. Most college admissions essays ask you to write about yourself anyway, so they are obviously going to be written as first-person narrative. Overusing “I” is an easy mistake to make. More than once per sentence is generally too much. Instead of using “I” all the time, use different pronouns or simply omit them.

Example: I love eating desserts so I started baking classes on the weekends. In particular, I focused on chocolates, cupcakes, and tortes. I really enjoyed these courses, and they’ve added a lot to my life. → An obsession with desserts drove me to attend weekend baking classes, focusing on chocolates, cupcakes, and tortes. These courses were very enjoyable and added a lot to my life.

Going off on tangents. Not all information about a certain experience, event, etc. needs to be mentioned. If content is not related to your main point or serves a purpose, exclude it.

Excess expletive constructions. Expletive constructions usually begin with “there” or “it.” “There is/there are,” “it is,” “it seems,” and the like are usually unnecessary. In an expletive construction, the “there,” or “it” do not serve as pronouns (aka they have no antecedents, meaning that they do not refer to anything); rather, they are merely empty subjects followed by a conjugation of the trite verb “to be.” To keep sentences engaging, use meaningful subjects and verbs.

Example: There were two girls in class who had problems with math. → Two girls in class had problems with math.

Example: It is Monday that I get to see my teacher again. →  On Monday I get to see my teacher again.

Don’t overuse flowery language. Too many adjectives, adverbs, and pompous words can ruin the reading experience by creating a suffocating feeling. Rather, use strong verbs to breathe some life into your essay.

Example: He lovingly gazed into her eyes and paused for a brief moment. Then, he took her soft, delicate hand in his, and whispered, “Will you marry me?” → He gazed into her eyes and paused for a moment. Then, he took her hand in his and whispered, “Will you marry me?”

Weak verbs. Just as strong verbs can make an essay, weak ones will ruin them. It’s inevitable that you will often use the verb “to be,” but do not overuse it. When another verb is possible or preferable, opt for it. The example below, though grammatically correct, is stylistically lacking. Notice how the bland verb “is” is replaced by “deserves” and “trace.”

Example: My mother is responsible for shaping me into the person I am today. She is not aware of her influence on me, however. →  My mother deserves credit for shaping me into the person I am today. Though unaware of her influence on me, I can trace my success back to her.

Unnecessary use of the passive voice. Using the passive voice—in other words, creating a sentence in which the object takes the position of the subject—is not grammatically incorrect, but over or unnecessary use makes essays wordy and confusing.

Example: The window was left open by Joe. (passive) →  Joe left the window open.(active)

Example: The ball was thrown into the goal by Sally. (passive) → Sally threw the ball into the goal as hard as she could. (active)

Note that the aforementioned passive examples are awkward. While reading the sentence, the reader wonders who is performing the action and is left guessing until the sentence’s end. To avoid confusion, place the subject in the typical subject position, at the front.

However, sometimes you would actually prefer to use the passive voice. If the focus of the sentence is the object, rather than the action, you should use the passive voice.

Example: As it was hit by a baseball bat, the precious Faberge egg shattered. (active) →  The precious Faberge egg shattered as it was hit by a baseball bat. (passive)

By: Andrea Schiralli

Essay Topics to Avoid

Your heroism. If you saved someone in a swimming pool and that experience really changed you, okay, write about it. Just make sure the essay does not come off as arrogant. Be humble when describing your heroic (a word to avoid in the essay, by the way) efforts.

Pity me! Topics that call upon self-pity may even raise a red-flag as to how ready you are to handle college at this point. Save these topics for a psychology class or your diary.

Excuses. Related to “Pity me!” excuses (divorce or death in the family, moving to a new school, etc.) for bad grades should be explained in a supplemental attachment. Most applications provide an area where you can explain extenuating circumstances which may have affected your academic record. Keep these short and sweet, and most importantly, far away from your main essays.

The travel itinerary. So many students write about traveling that it is no longer a unique topic. If one excursion changed you for the better or opened your eyes in some way, focus on it. Just make sure to explore the important aspects of the journey in-depth and introspectively, rather than providing an itinerary of places you’ve been to.

Touchy religious or political issues. Major issues such as abortion, the legalization of marijuana, and overseas wars are extremely divisive. Though you may be convinced your arguments are solid and that your point of view is “right,” no one likes being lectured to. The risks of offending the admissions officers are too high, so save these types of essays for history, political science, or sociology courses once/if you’re accepted.

Dating/sex life. Writing about a steamy or controversial topic may be an easy way to grab attention, but it will likely just embarrass your reader. Avoid topics you would not feel comfortable speaking to a stranger with. Some aspects of life are best kept private.

Drug use. Every college has to deal with on-campus substance abuse. Even if you’ve overcome the hardest of addictions, your admissions essay is no place to mention it.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Types of College Application Essays

Though some schools (e.g., Wake Forest, UChicago, Brown) will have their own bizarre essay prompts, most college essays can be grouped into a type, the most common being:

The Personal Statement: The first essay prompt in the Common App is a perfect example of an essay that asks students to write about themselves. It goes: “Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

When responding to this prompt, choose an experience or activity that played an important role in your life but that does not appear somewhere else on your application. For example, if your transcript and extracurriculars include a lot of orchestra classes and music prizes, do not write about playing the violin. Remember, the whole point of the essay is to show admissions officers a side of you that the rest of your application does not reveal. Show that you are multidimensional human being!

Your Favorite Activity: Choose an activity you are passionate about—be it a sport, random hobby (e.g. stamp collecting), or extracurricular activity (e.g. volunteering, hiking on weekends).

When responding to this prompt, think about what you do in your free time. Why is whatever you choose to write about your favorite activity? How do you feel when you are engaged in it? Show that you have a deep passion for something and that you have an intellectual understanding of it.

Why School?: This essay prompt specifically asks you why you want to spend your prime youth years at the college in mind. The prompt may ask: “Why is this college a good fit for you?” or “Tell us about your career goals and plans you may have for your studies.” This essay allows you to show your interest in the school and why you are a good fit.

When responding to this prompt, it is crucial to do a lot of research into the school and into the specific program you are applying to. Is the major or academic program unique from how it is typically offered at other colleges? Is there a specific course or curricula requirement which you’re itching to take? Does the department boast prominent researchers, some of whose work interests you enough to consider joining their team? Check out the website for your major’s department to get clues. Browse the college’s clubs listing and see if anything interests you. Is there an intramural sport you would like to join? Or an international club? By mentioning specific aspects of the university that appeal to you, you show that you put a good amount of thought into your application decision. So, be specific.

Here, you also want to show that if admitted, you would make positive contributions to the school community. Play upon your strengths. Are you a talented pianist who wants to join the school orchestra? Do you want to serve as a peer tutor in any subject(s)? Do you bring a fresh cultural perspective to the table? What would the school gain in accepting you?

Intellectual Curiosity: You may be asked to describe an idea, experience, or work of art that has been important to your intellectual development. When responding to this prompt, think about what some of your favorite subjects are. What do you enjoy reading up on in your free time? Is there a particular novel or academic text that  has inspired you to think differently? If so, how has it affected the way you see the world?

By: Andrea Schiralli

Key Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement Essay

Start as early in the process as possible. The more time you have to write, the more revising you can do and thus, the better your essay will be. Also, procrastinating leads to unnecessary stress.

Brainstorm and make an outline before you begin. It’s amazing how many ideas you can come up with through effective brainstorming. Jot down aspects of your personality and strengths that you really want the admissions officers to know about. Crafting an outline will allow you to view the entire skeleton of your essay. Flaws in idea flow and organization will become visible.

Make your essay your own. Think about what you care about, sparks your interests, or motivates you, and then write about it. Don’t write about what you think admissions officers want to hear.

Don’t be common. Take a risk! Don’t write what everyone else is writing about. Read essays online, ask your friends what they are writing about, and then choose something completely different.

Allow your personality to shine. This is the only part of the application that allows admissions officers to see you from your own perspective. If you are generally a funny person, feel free to to sprinkle a few witticisms or silly metaphors in your essay, but don’t attempt to write an entire satire. Remember: the essay’s purpose is to convey your intelligence, passions, and strengths—not your sense of humor.

Stay focused. This is your chance to tell the admissions officers why they should accept you. They already have your activity sheet, so avoid making your essay read like a stale grocery list of your awards and accomplishments. Rather, choose one topic that really interests you, and write about it. Stick to the main theme throughout the whole essay. Even if the question is rather broad, your answer should be narrow. Through details and real examples, your writing will reveal your passions and personality.

Have fun! College admissions essays tend to lean more toward narratives and free-form writing rather than structured academic essays. They are meant to be written from the heart, so once you figure out what to write about (arguably the most difficult part), let the words flow.

Be specific, clear, and to-the-point.

Do not exceed the word limit.

Don’t plagiarize. This should go without saying, but don’t ever copy or tweak someone else’s essay. Even if you found it buried hundreds of clicks away from an initial Google search, admissions officers have literally read thousands (if not tens of thousands) of college admissions essays in their lives and more than likely will be able to spot plagiarism. Plagiarizing is simply unacceptable in America, and a plagiarized essay will be tossed in the trash.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite! Don’t expect a flawless (or even good!) essay on your first try. The pressure will stress you out and probably contribute to a frustrating case of writer’s block. Don’t worry about trivial things you can clean up later, such as grammar or spelling. First, simply get your ideas off your head and onto paper. Then, a few hours or even a few days later, look at your work with “fresh eyes.”

Edit. Go through your entire essay a few times and Spell Check (manually after running it on the computer, for mistakes such as “they’re” vs. “their.”). Remove frivolous words such as “very,” “many,” and “interesting.” These words weaken your writing. Check for grammatical and punctuation errors. You may want to ask someone who hasn’t yet read your essay to proofread it for you, as they are more likely to catch mistakes. Even minor mistakes show a lack of care for quality in your work.

Ask a friend or teacher for an opinion. When you think you are finally done with this grueling process, find someone whose opinion you trust (a scholarly friend, an English teacher, a parent, etc.). Ask them what you can do to improve your writing, and accept their feedback gracefully. Listen carefully and consider their suggestions. In the end, it is your essay, so make sure it stays in your own voice.

Read your essay aloud. Yes, aloud. Not in your head. By reading an essay aloud, you will be able to pick up any phrases that sound awkward or wordy while noticing which areas don’t flow smoothly.

By: Andrea Schiralli

College Admission: Essays

Read through posts that provide great tips, strategies, and advice to calm “essay anxiety” when affronting the admission essay process! For any inquires, please contact us and feel free to comment!