The College & Career Center hosts several college essay writing workshops each year. Here is the presentation from 10/29/20 where reps from Kenyon College, Reed College, and Sarah Lawrence College gave tips for writing a successfl college essay.
The notes from sessions held during the 2014-15 school year are listed below in date order and are still relevant today.College Essay Writing Workshop for Seniors, November 12, 2014
Presenter: Sadie Nott, Assistant Director of Admission/Northern Regional Office, Whitman College, email@example.com
You make topics great by the way you write them. Some topics are more compelling than others but there's a way to write a successful essay on almost any topic.
Who you are? What you can contribute to the college?At Whitman, they read applications online. The essay is her favorite part of the application. It attacks the question of who you are in a bigger way than any other part of your application. The essay is the first time she gets to hear the student's voice. What kind of person are we talking about admitting? It's the window into who the student is.
You can have multiple stories within an essay but be careful to show more than telling. An overarching characteristic might surface when you look at an essay covering several stories/components about the student.
Essay examples: bagpipe essay - a student plays the bagpipe in a marching band. He tunes it on a surface that he's not playing it on and that's a problem. He fails at this and decides to write about failure. What did I take away from this? Sometimes the essays we think we're supposed to write are not the ones we should write.The essay alone is never the deciding factor in admissions.
Other interesting essay examples: outdoor experiences, camps - does the experience connect to something about you? Make sure it does. Many students write about their experiences at camp and that's fine but if it's a topic that could be written about by many other students, make it specific to you. Why do you love camp and why is it a significant part of your life? A girl wrote about how she didn't take her ADD medicine on a trip to Alaska. Here's an example of an attention-grabbing first line: I've never been to jai but I have spent time sledge-hammering rocks for the government. Start with a whacky sentence that grabs the reader's attention.
A student asked how long is spent reading applications. The first read is typically 20 minutes. The second reader looks at what the first reader wrote and spends 7-10 minutes on the application. 3-5 minutes spent on the essay. Make her read the essay twice and not because it's confusing!
The most common topics include: service trips, experiences from camp, basketball essay - she needs something other than you scored the winning points. She'd already know you play basketball from your list of activities. That's not to say you can't write about something you've listed under activities but make it much more than the activity - make it about you and what you gained/learned from the experience.
A student asked if there were an experience from an early age that would be off limits because it occurred too long ago? The example was from age six and Sadie thought that would be fine but the student should tie it into his interests now and how that experience at age six impacted who he is now.
Your essay does not need to be akin to something you'd turn in to an English class. For example, a student started their essay with a recipe. Allow yourself to be creative. However, you wouldn't want your entire essay to be a poem.
Whitman supplement: they need to get a sense of why an applicant is looking at Whitman? You choose from a list of words and talk about why they resonate with you or you can choose your own words. Why is our community especially interesting to you and why do you think you would fit in well there?
Sadie finds students spend too little time on the supplements so attack the prompts with thoughtfulness and put in as much time on it as possible. Make it compelling and make sure you have done your research so you know things about the college to which you are applying.
What kind of programs are interesting to you at that college? Even if a college's website isn't designed well, do some research so at least you can speak to a program that they have that interests you. Impart your own voice and be honest about what you feel would indicate how the school would be a good fit.
A student asked about the structure of the essay. She hasn't started yet and doesn't know where to begin. The advice was to start writing and then take a moment to look back and see if there's too much analysis. The essay needs to have a beginning, middle and end.College Essay Writing Workshop for Seniors, November 14, 2014Presenter: Dennis Jones, West Coast Regional Director of Recruitment, Maryville University of St. Louis, firstname.lastname@example.org
The essay is important, particularly at certain schools or for certain majors. Marysville requires a resume as well. Essays can help students with obtaining scholarships. A student can have a similar profile as another student in terms of grades and test scores so the essay can be a piece that differentiates you.
Dennis shared this Power Point presentation during his workshop.Common Application prompts: # 1: Everybody has a story. If you have a past experience that relates to why you want to study a particular subject, it's important to share it. The story should be specific to you. How did you arrive to where you are? It can be connected to athletics, service, performing arts, etc. Don't tell your family's story but tell your story. How will the school benefit from you being on campus? Why is the school a good fit?
Common Application prompt #2: how did the failure affect you - speak more to that than the actual failure. Speak to perseverance, what you learned from it. Empathize.
Common Application prompt #3: What did you do outside the norm? Universities want leaders and students with character. Did you inspire others? How did you feel afterwards?
Common Application prompt #4: Where would you be without the place/environment? Can this place be recreated in college? How are you going to get your fishing fix in Detroit if the college campus is located no where near a lake?
Common Application prompt #5: Focus not so much on what as why. Family tradition? How will it help you get over the next big hurdle, challenge?