College admission essay prompts
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Estela Laureano, at a Long Island Writing Project workshop, honing her college-essay writing skills. Picture this before you plop yourself down in front of your computer to compose your college application essay: A winter-lit room is crammed with admissions professionals and harried faculty members who sit around a big table covered with files. I went to a developing country and discovered poor people can be happy. They wade through long lists of candidates, state by state, region by region. The best applications and the weakest don’t come to committee. It’s the gigantic stack in the middle that warrants discussion.
The truth is, most essays are typical. Your goal is to write an essay that makes someone fall in love with you. Once you commit the time and emotional energy to get your butt in the chair to write, you face a daunting task — figuring out what to write about. If you’re stuck, you’re in good company. With so much freedom, this is a challenge for most students. Here’s a tip: Choose a topic you really want to write about. If the subject doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to the reader.
Write about whatever keeps you up at night. That might be cars, or coffee. It might be your favorite book or the Pythagorean theorem. It might be why you don’t believe in evolution or how you think kale must have hired a PR firm to get people to eat it.
A good topic will be complex. In school, you were probably encouraged to write papers that took a side. That’s fine in academic work when you’re being asked to argue in support of a position, but in a personal essay, you want to express more nuanced thinking and explore your own clashing emotions. In an essay, conflict is good. While the personal essay has to be personal, a reader can learn a lot about you from whatever you choose to focus on and how you describe it. My car and I are a lot alike. The writer then described a car that smelled like wet dog and went from 0 to 60 in, well, it never quite got to 60.
Another guy wrote about making kimchi with his mom. Every time you have sex, I want you to make sure and use a condo. Mom, that college admission essay prompts get kind of expensive! A girl wrote about her feminist mother’s decision to get breast implants.
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A car, kimchi, Mom’s upsizing — the writers used these objects as vehicles to get at what they had come to say. They allowed the writer to explore the real subject: This is who I am. Instead, look at times you’ve struggled or, even better, failed. Be honest and say the hardest things you can. And remember those exhausted admissions officers sitting around a table in the winter.
Jolt them out of their sugar coma and give them something to be excited about. 10 Things Students Should AvoidREPEATING THE PROMPT Admissions officers know what’s on their applications. A time that I failed was when I tried to beat up my little brother and I realized he was bigger than me. As I pulled my arm back to throw a punch, it struck me: My brother had gotten big. THE EPIGRAPH Many essays start with a quote from another writer. When you have a limited amount of space, you don’t want to give precious real estate to someone else’s words.
When writing about past events, the present tense doesn’t allow for reflection. All you can do is tell the story. This happens, then this happens, then this happens. Some beginning writers think the present tense makes for more exciting reading. You’ll see this is a fallacy if you pay attention to how many suspenseful novels are written in past tense.
Are you thinking of comic books? Certainly, good writing can benefit from a little onomatopoeia. ACTIVE BODY PARTS One way to make your reader giggle is to give body parts their own agency. My eyes fell to the floor.
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