When it comes to applying to college, many students fear the personal essay above all.
Bari Norman, a former admissions officer at Columbia University and president of Expert Admissions, a Manhattan, N.Y.-based firm which offers personalized counseling for the college admissions process, appeared on "Good Morning America" today, with tips on how to ace your college application.
To score an acceptance letter, experts say the essay must stand out from the crowd.
Personal Essay Tips and Tricks
The main college essay should be personal and tell some story about the applicant, Norman says. It's the student's space to introduce themselves to the school, and tell the admissions officers what he or she wants them to know.
Too many kids think that if they have no special talents or tragedies to write about, their essay will be a bust. Every experience, if you add them together, makes a student unique. Norman says admissions officers are looking at how you interpret your experience and how you communicate it.
'Write about yourself, not about your mother'
"I read too many generic essays when I was an admissions officer about how much someone's mom loved them and the sacrifices they made to raise them and it made me want to adopt the mom, not admit the kid!" Norman says, "No offense to all the wonderful moms out there!"
Instead, she suggests thinking about other things in your life that are more revealing.
Supplemental essays should complement the narrative of the personal essay. Make sure they don't read like a resume, but instead reveal the real you, Norman says.
Sample Personal Essay Draft 1
Below is the first draft and a final draft of a student's college essay, with Norman's comments below.
Change is a hard concept to grasp for a young child who does not have much experience with anything outside of his small world. I had to grasp this concept multiple times as I moved from country to country growing up. Before I was 10 years old I had already lived in 4 different countries, which is more than most people live in their entire lives. I wouldn't say that these changes in my life have been completely dreadful but they were certainly not easy either.
Born in Brasil, I was introduced to the United States at the age of 1. I was still too young to really notice and remember details until this day. My parents said I was happy in Miami. We had a small house by a lake where I used to go swimming with my grandfather while he was still healthy. After 2 years and 8 months of my life, my little sister was born, changing my life forever.
At the age of 4 I moved to Colombia. Colombia was definitely my least-enjoyed change. I did not like the weather and the dangers present in that area. Being there taught me that you are never too safe no matter where you are. Everything was dangerous in some way and it was impossible to just go out on the street with your friends and run around. Another horrible thing about Colombia was the amount of earthquakes. Although none of them endangered my life, many others were hurt during those hours I used to spend hidden under a table until it was safe to come out. Fortunately, at the age of 6, I moved to Spain.
Living in Madrid was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I still remember almost all of my 3 years there quite clearly. Our house was in a suburb called La Moraleja. Although I denied it at the time, I used to enjoy all the trips I had to go on with my parents every weekend. I would get to visit many ancient towns where the history is present everywhere. I visited old castles, cemeteries, and even jails! My friends were from all over the world so I got to learn about cultures I had never heard of before. I was very upset when my parents told me we had to move and couldn't believe it. I dreaded Miami at first but now it has grown upon me. I cherish my past experiences in other countries because I feel as if they have shown me a little bit more about cultures and people that I would never have learned about in school.
There is a lot of "I lived here, then I moved there," but little depth to any of these experiences (which are legitimately interesting!). Even the chronology isn't clear, and is a bit confusing.
The essay lacks overall focus and tends to introduce tangential details within paragraphs that detract from the overall "message" of the essay.
Transitions and a clear flow are a must when moving from thought to thought; this essay moves abruptly from one paragraph to the next and it lacks a compelling "voice."
The student refers to some important things (his heritage, his friends, his travels, what he thought about the world as a result of what he saw), but he never gets into the details of the individual experiences that really informed his way of looking at the world. There's not much depth about him as a person.
Sample Personal Essay Final
Before I was 10 years old, I had already lived in four different countries, allowing me to learn about many different cultures and make many observations about people and places, more generally. In Brazil, I was born into a multi-cultural family. My mother was born in Brazil, but from Italian descent, while my father was from a "rival" country, Argentina. No one seemed to care that my father was not like the rest of my mother's family and they just accepted him into the family. This is my foundation and where I come from, both literally and figuratively.
I started out in Brazil, but at the age of four I moved to Colombia. Colombia was definitely my least-enjoyed "stop." Having to live in constant fear of terrorism was horrible. Colombia was also my first real experience with prejudice. In Colombia, I had a good friend named Sameer, who was Arab; people outside of my family looked down on me, as if he were a bad person just because of his ethnicity and as if I were a bad person for being his friend. I did not understand why it mattered where someone was from, considering that you are not defined by where you were born or what your heritage is, but rather the person you are and the way you choose to live your life. Given this experience and others like it, I was not sad to leave Colombia after two years. We then moved to Spain.
Living in Madrid was probably one of the most culture-filled experiences of my life. I still remember most of my three years there quite clearly. Our house was in a suburb called La Moraleja. Although Spain was safe, it was still not the ideal place to live. Racism was rampant. My best friend, Pablo, was of African descent and again, people would look down upon our friendship as if it were a sin. I used to take road trips across Spain with my family to learn about ancient civilizations and how much of an issue slavery was in the olden days, and it was clear that for many, the olden days still lingered. Each of those trips was like a new chapter of a history book I wanted to devour. After Spain, at the age of nine, I moved to Miami.
Miami is definitely the most culturally diverse city I have ever lived in, but somehow, people still manage to judge. During my first year here, the kids used to make fun of me for having a British accent because of my studies in a British school in Madrid. I even got made fun of for my Spanish accent when I spoke Spanish because of the lisp the Spanish have when they speak (compared to many of the local Cubans). In the other countries, I was judged for the people I spent my time with. But in the United States, I was the source, and it felt different.
After all my travels, the only place I truly feel happy and unbothered is Brazil. Maybe it is the comfort my family provides me or perhaps I have not been around to see that racism is present there as well. Whatever it is, I wish I could spread that into every country I have lived in and show people that, at the root, everybody actually is the same.
The final draft is easier and more interesting to follow.
The "message" of the essay is clear from the start, but it doesn't read like the thesis in a five paragraph essay for English class.
The final draft reads like a story he would be telling you and is more clearly a reflection of this student's world view, based on the people he's met and the specific experiences he's had. One thing seems to naturally flow from the next.
The final draft really allows us to peek into his world and the depths of his experiences. His world view (not to mention his essay) is more believable after he's shared with us where he comes from, philosophically and literally. The essay works because he really lets us into his world by lifting the veil on the rich details of his beliefs and his life experiences.
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How to Write an Essay
Writing essays is often a major part of what a person does to earn a college education. Essays are mostly given to students as general homework assignments, as well as in the form of exams and tests.
While students are generally taught in high school how to write essays using the Five-Paragraph-Essay format – though most college writing assignments call for longer essays – college essays are a bit more challenging. At the college level, students are given essays to write so they can demonstrate not only their writing abilities but their critical-thinking skills as well. Essays also prove to one’s professor they have done the required reading, can understand it and make sense of it by analyzing its content.
Generally, essays are for students to make and defend arguments – as well as to appropriately evaluate information on a topic or subject pertinent to the course in which the essay assignment was given. Sometimes, essays are assigned to be a response to a certain question or issue, like in the case of an exam with essay questions. Or, essays are given in the form of papers meant to argue something, explore a topic or analyze an issue, for example.
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Writing the College Essay
The standard college essay first requires an understanding of the assignment. When given an essay to write for a particular course, the student-writer should ask – What is the purpose of writing this essay? Is it meant to argue something and put forth an argument that should be defended with substantial evidence? How should the essay be written? What is my professor expecting?
If they are unsure about any of these questions, the student-writer should ask their professor. (Institutions of higher education have a multitude of resources available to help students with their academic challenges, most times in the form of writing centers with a team of tutors, aides, professors, etc.)
Next, to write an essay assignment, a student-writer generally needs to select a topic to write about. This occurs before any writing is done. This comes the easiest when they understand the assignment. A topic for an essay shouldn’t be too ambiguous in nature – like war, France, Geography or Criminology. Topics for essays should be quite specific in nature – like the consequences of the American Civil War, causes of the French Revolution, the Geopolitics of the European Union, and the psychology of a violent criminal. These are just a few examples.
Thirdly, just about any essay requires a good bit of preliminary research. Rarely can a student-writer write an extensive essay without first doing a bit of reading; they first need to know a good deal about a subject, issue or topic before writing about it. Research can start with a general Internet search, with reading Encyclopedias and books, for example, and taking ample notes along the way. Once they have read thoroughly on the subject, the student-writer should compile this information into a readable form and, quite often, an outline. An outline generally serves to help organize the essay by each paragraph or section.
Then, they should attempt their first rough draft of the essay (the best writing occurs in the editing stage of the writing process). This applies to any and everyone in higher education. It is almost impossible to write a perfect essay on the first attempt. The student-writer should also keep in mind that, in writing any essay, they are communicating something to their reader.
Finally, once this first rough draft has been completed, it should be proofread several times because the student-writer has a sort of checklist they must follow in order to maximize the chances of earning a high grade (or evaluation). Each time the essay is read, the student-writer is bound to find mistakes – in grammar, punctuation or logic – that they must correct. Once this is done, it never hurts to have another person read the essay (especially a writing tutor at the institution, or even the professor assigning the essay). Most times they will find mistakes the person writing the essay overlooked.
After these steps have been followed, the essay can be submitted for a grade. If you want to save your time - ask our professional for help!
Do you conduct the primary research also with the dissertations?
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