SHERIDAN — Although the new academic year has just started, it is not too early for seniors to begin work on one of the most important aspects of their next educational step, the college admission or scholarship essay.
Many scholarship organizations begin taking applications soon, and one standard part of most of them is the personal essay. In addition, some colleges require an essay as part of the admissions process.
Ed Fessler, dean of students at Sheridan High School, said while many colleges no longer require essays and instead look at high school grades, ACT and SAT scores, the schools that do require essays often rely heavily on them for discerning between candidates. These include Ivy League schools, certain liberal arts schools and other exclusive institutions.
“They are strong academic schools and they have more applicants than they have beds available, so they can use the essays to distinguish between applicants,” Fessler said. “If schools have a number of potential applicants that are equal in terms of grade point average and college entrance exam score, the strength of the essay becomes perhaps the most important component used to separate similar applicants.”
Whether a student is writing a college admission essay or a scholarship essay, there are several points to consider.
•Start early. An essay will need to go through several drafts and will need editing and proofreading by others, so get started well before the application deadline.
•Follow the rules. This may seem obvious, but make sure to thoroughly read the essay requirements such as font size, length, deadline date, etc. Adhering to every requirement shows your attention to detail. Conversely, missing or ignoring the requirements may get your essay shoved to the bottom of the pile, right off the bat.
•Don’t repeat information already in your resume or profile. The essay is a chance to truly show who you are as a person, outside of being a student. If your resume or application packet mentions you were a ‘member of the Boy Scouts from 2010 to 2014,’ use the essay to expand on that information and give specifics on the projects or activities you participated in, who you cooperated with and what you enjoyed about being a part of the Scouts, rather than again simply listing your time of membership.
“Keep in mind who your targeted audience is and what your goal is,” Fessler noted. “Avoid writing about the “big game” and its impact on your life. That topic has been beat into oblivion! If your topic references a calamity that occurred in your life, write how it has made you stronger and more focused on your future. Do not create a pity essay with hope of getting into their particular institution via a sympathy vote.”
•Highlight community service and volunteer work. Grades and test scores are obviously important to college or scholarship reviewers, but sometimes just as important is what the student has done outside the academic world. Students should show what talents and passions they would bring to campus life, through joining clubs and participating in activities. An indication of this is how involved a student was during their high school career, either through extracurricular school activities or through participation in outside groups.
“They want to know the student they are bringing in is not a social isolationist,” Fessler said. “They are looking for a kid with a history of being in involved in their community.”
•Create a unique essay for each scholarship or college you apply for. This is where starting early pays off. Instead of writing one generic essay that you hope to send to every college or scholarship organization, you will likely need to create unique ones for each entity. While the bulk of the essay may stay the same, you’ll need to add modifications to tailor your essay to fit the different, specific questions and requirements of each entity.
•Have others read and comment on your essay. Ask friends, teachers, parents and other close acquaintances to read your essay and provide feedback. Since they know you best, they can provide suggestions on information to include about yourself that you may have forgotten or overlooked.
“Your favorite English teacher can be a gift from God,” Fessler said, emphasizing that the Student Planning Office at SHS has staff willing to assist students as well. “There are tons of quality sites on the web that address college entrance essays. The University of Chicago’s website has a plethora of strong, submitted essays to examine.”
•Spell check and grammar check is your friend. It probably goes without saying that an essay with misspellings, typos, punctuation mistakes and grammatical problems will severely undermine your effort to create a good impression. These types of problems show that you may not have a good grasp of grammar and spelling or it suggests that you are lazy or sloppy in your writing. Again, asking teachers, parents or friends to read the essay will help catch these mistakes.
•Be yourself. Rather than an assembly of fancy words, clichés and things you think the review board wants to hear, make the essay a real portrait of you. This will not only be easier to write, but will make you stand out as an individual from the dozens or even hundreds of other essays you will judged against.
“The essay is the only chance an applicant has to advocate for themselves-to set them apart from the other applicants,” Fessler said. “Therefore, one wants to be candidly honest as to any assertions they make regarding themselves. Include critical information regarding your history, aspirations, and why their particular school is the ideal fit. Keep in mind that your goal is to tell a story about yourself that leaves the selection committee with the hope of learning more about you in the future.”