Suggestions for Writing Admission Essays
Here are a few hints about how to write a strong admissions essay, and I would suggest you also view our Hints for Applying to College
. I do not claim to be an expert on admissions essays, but after reading more than 40,000 essays over the past 17 years, I do have a few suggestions on how to present your work in the best light. As with everything I say, take it with a very large grain of salt, and good luck.
-David Graves, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at UGA
Make it unique to you.
For several years, one of UGA's essay questions asked the applicant to share an experience from their high school years where they gained respect for intellectual, social, or cultural differences. Our rough estimate is that more than 20% of the replies focused on their high school and the wide range of backgrounds and ideas that encompassed their last four years. They would list the range of cultures, languages, clubs and thoughts, but there was a lack of specific details about the individual student and an actual experience. While many of these essays were technically very strong and showed great passion and love for their school, they lacked the concept of uniqueness. If ten or more people can write the exact same essay, then it is time to rethink that essay. When we say unique, though, we are not focused on a clever or one-of-a-kind idea, but instead your own individual story in all its wonderful detail.
Show and Tell.
Do you remember when you were in elementary school, and it was time for show and tell? The boy with the blonde crew cut from the second row slowly stood up, holding carefully to a small, brown paper bag. When he got to the front of the class, he gently opened the bag and eased out a long, flat almost paper like object, and everyone made an oooh sound. A snake skin that he had discovered in his backyard next to his dad's tool shed. The class listened to him speak, but their minds were on the snake skin, with its crinkly feel and wild designs. Wasn't the show part just a little more exciting than the tell part? Nothing against the telling, but there is just something about the "show" that allows us to use all our senses. That is how it is with admissions essays. You need to be able to draw the reader out beyond the straight text, and use words and images that trigger all the senses. Of course, I do not want thousands of snake skins sent to my office, or any other foreign objects. The difference between showing and telling is in the details. Strong essays focus on specific details over basic statements. When admissions counselors read essays, Details are the lifeblood of the story, otherwise there is no "show" in show and tell.
It is advantageous to eschew the employment of extravagant language options. In other words, use common English. Remember, it is not just the words that you use, but more importantly, how you use them. Admissions offices want you to tell your own story in your own voice. While big words and grand phrases might seem impressive, they generally do not read well in an essay. In addition, there are always essay writers who believe that more is always better. Wrong. Stay within the specific word requirements of each essay, and use enough words to tell us your story. One of the best essays I read this year was less than thirty words, but it made me laugh for five minutes straight.
Have fun, write well, and tell us your story.