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What his essay did was make admissions officers pause in their tracks for a moment, and peer a tad more closely at the rest of his application. Think of it not as an essay in the academic sense, but an unlined blank canvas you can use to present whatever you want. Admissions officers barrel through dozens of essays a day, and the rote tedium of it can cause them to be hyper-critical of even the smallest of typos and grammatical errors.
It can be instinctive to paint the best picture of yourself possible in your essay, but put aside vanity and pride for a moment.
You’ve already spent the rest of your college application flourishing your immaculate GPA, club leadership, and volunteer work.
Here’s a brutal truth about applying to college: On paper, most teenagers are not very unique.
Some three million high school graduates send applications into universities every single year, and that’s just within the United States.
Yale’s dean of admissions Jeremiah Quinlan told Quartz last year that the university is explicitly “looking for passion” in the kids it admits; you can bet that the admissions offices at Stanford, MIT, and other top-tier schools are hunting around for the exact same.
Don’t worry about your topic sounding too boring or pretentious—the raw emotion underneath matters more.
Parents and teachers will often tell students who are just starting out on their essays to “write sincerely,” “write about your feelings,” “write about what matters to you.” That advice, while well-intentioned, is not helpful. Instead of starting from such a broad place, begin with the narrow strategy of researching the worst college-essay clichés; that way, even if you don’t have the faintest idea what to write about, you at least know what you have to avoid.
Examples of hackneyed essay characteristics that immediately make admissions officers roll their eyes include: Now, what to write about?
is never the same as a.m.” He goes on to explain how he and his relatives were accidentally separated on the trip, walking the reader through the challenges he faced on his way back to safety, and ending on a tone of humility and lesson-learning.
Good essays don’t all need to hype up an applicant’s superpowers: They can expose weaknesses, demonstrating subtlety and self-awareness.