This will be a kind of intuitive essay-writing clinic. I’m going to show you examples of fine long essays and some short-response answers. Those, along with my supporting comments, will constitute our lessons. I’ll also provide you with a few excellent reference listings that will guide you to the best sources for knowledge on how to improve your writing and essay approaches. Now, let’s get back to the Application Essay Obstacle Course.
For the sake of specific non-specificity, we’ll call the school for which this student is filling out his application HYPer University. (Pretty clever, huh?). So, while we page through the application, let’s pay particular attention to HYPer’s essay requirements.
First up, we have the interest and activities statement, summer-involvement statement, and an after-school job statement. HYPer requires applicants to answer three short questions that ask for a “brief” response (remember, we’ll explore these in detail a little later). The three questions divide a single page into three neat sections that allow for far more than a brief response. Each question opens a door of possibility for your voice to speak clearly.
The student whose HYPer application we’ll explore here also applied to HYPer’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Because that involves another level of selectivity within the already ultra-selective admission process, an Engineering Statement is required, which poses three additional essay questions. We’ll examine these responses also. Now it’s time for the Main Event: The Big Essay. Yikes!
In the HYPer application, they lay it right on the line by prompting the writer to “tell one story about yourself . . . with an insight into the kind of person you are.” There it is! That’s what they really want to know. One has to chuckle, though, when they add, almost as an afterthought, “Just relax, and write it.” Yeah, right. The whole blank, letter-size page yawns empty before you. It’s enough to keep you up at night.
Okay, now we’re cooking, so it’s time to write our “Optional ‘Anything Else You’d Like to Tell Us’.” Oh, in case you haven’t picked up on this yet, nothing, repeat, nothing is “optional” on an application of this caliber. Besides, who would want to pass up an opportunity to throw some more marketing points onto the adcom’s table? What’s another three-quarter page essay anyhow? This stuff is easy!?
Well, the governor just called and we got a reprieve. No more essays . . . until the “Optional Update Form” (“Did I hear you say optional, Dave?”).
Okay, let’s take inventory. We have our interest and activities statement, our summer-involvements and after-school job statements, our three “brief” (ha, ha) essays, our three engineering essays, our Big Essay, our “anything else” essay, and our three optional update essays. Now that isn’t so bad, is it?
What’s going on here, really? This almost seems like some kind of cruel joke. Well, in case you couldn’t tell, you’re HYPer application has made you the subject of a deep background investigation, and all the answers are coming from your writing, your answers to these many questions. So, if you’re a candidate applying to an Ivy League or other elite college, and you think you can fake your way through the essay requirement of these mighty applications, you had better think again.
Just a side note here: You don’t have to write like William F. Buckley or sound like you’re on the faculty of the school to which you’re applying. What you need to realize, though, is that you can write very convincing, if not compelling, essays using very simple language and unsophisticated sentence structures. It’s your-here’s that word again-voice that counts. Please realize that I’m not trying to discourage you from the high aspiration of applying to top schools. I’m merely trying to demonstrate the level of effort necessary to be competitive, assuming that your grades, extracurriculars, and recommendations are up to Ivy standards.
We’re not done yet. There’s one more form to deal with and, yes, it requires another essay-but not from you.
HYPer’s”Optional Reference Form” gives you an excellent opportunity to have someone who knows you extremely well write a recommendation for you. As the form suggests, it can be”a brother or sister, a parent, a coach, a music instructor, an employer, or a friend.” Other schools also offer this option and, as I mentioned regarding other”optional” aspects, this should not be optional for you. Take advantage of it. The only caveat is that, as you might suspect, your optional recommender here should be a quality writer. The more insight this person can provide regarding who you are, the better off you’ll be. And be sure that what any reference says is consistent with your actual academic performance, skills, or personal attributes. Later on, you’ll see a good example of what an optional reference can do for you.