College application essay – moving from the “maybe” pile to “yes” pile

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Everyone has a story, an experience that leads to a life changing moment. Most students feel that their life is not exciting enough or lacks “fun”. Asian students especially tend to downplay personal experiences, and often feel mired in what appears to be a life spent studying and engaging in serious-minded, prescribed extracurriculars, such as English and math tutoring or intense training in a musical instrument that gives them no particular joy. Despite all of these negative distinctions, what sometimes students don’t realize is that application essays are not the place to complainTelling yourself – or the admissions committee - that you have nothing interesting to write about will send your essay directly to the “rejection” pile.

You may be a straight-A student with a wide range of traditional extracurriculars, but when applying to any university there are thousands of other students just like you. When reading application essays, American schools do not want to hear about how you are a perfect, disciplined student – they can see your accomplishments on your CV and transcripts – rather, they want to discover your personality. Stories that reveal your personality can come from seemingly minor events: an encounter with some interesting person or favorite teacher, a story about your 16th birthday party, a description of a solitary walk through the city, or the feeling of hiking in the countryside. Anything goes, as long as you tell the story creatively, in a way that expresses who you are and how you have grown and developed your own identity, or how you came to be interested in your chosen field. Try to link the story to the major for which you are applying or, if you are undecided, to your personal quest for knowledge and academic interests.

Most of all, show confidence in yourself, your worldview, and your ideas; do not resort to negativity, putting down yourself or others. While bragging is a bad idea, being too modest can make you appear self-defeating and focusing on negatives can make you appear insecure. Higher education is not about rigid conformity and following rules – it is about boldly revealing new insights and making contributions to human knowledge. The admissions committee not only wants to see you are a good student, but also that you will be an active and contributing citizen of the academic community, able to provide fresh ideas and challenge established beliefs. Openly showing passion, self-confidence, and a sense of individuality in your essay makes you more attractive to the admissions committee, and will help assure them that you are committed to their mission.


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