Posts Tagged ‘essay’

The mosaic / the list

Some college ask you:

Is there any further information regarding your personal situation or achievements that you think we should know when considering your possible acceptance to X?

Some students wonder what they could write. Well, sometimes you don’t need to write anything, but sometimes it might be a good idea to write something. How do you figure that out?

A college gets a lot of information about you – from different sources, in different ways. You should think of this information as of a mosaic.

How do you make sure nothing important is omitted? Write a list of all the important things a college should know about you. For every application check if you all points covered – by your essays, portfolios, short answers and possibly teacher recommendations (you should think of the things teachers don’t know about you, so they won’t address).


“How will you enrich the [College Name] community, and how do you think it might enrich you?”

A question from the forum.

The second question calls for a motivational essay  I have already written about that here.

The first calls for self-reflection – you have to finally find out who you are at this stage of your life and what you have to offer. You should persuade admissions officers that you do have something to offer … to the community.

What is the community? A community consists of people – professors and students. Both of them need enrichment, but after all a college is meant to educate students first, so you might think: how would your presence help make other students’ college experience richer?

What is college experience? Classroom experience, extracurricular activities, dormitory experience, canteen experience, lab experience, sports field experience, art studio experience, etc. etc.

I have read in too many people’s essays the promise that they will teach their classmates Bulgarian folk dance and cook Bulgarian food for them, so give me a break, please! You are much more than a representative of your ethnic group. You have a unique background – your life experience, your passions and outlooks. You are not a flat but a multi-dimensional being.

What could you share about yourself? As early as April, I posted a long document you can download – the broad topics, some tips, etc. When you have tried writing on all of them, you would have searched yourself high and low, and you will be able to write a personal “inventory” – this summary of all you could boast is what you could give to the community.

And here is a warning.

Always imagine an interview

When applying for a career oriented course, you have to write a personal statement, explaining how you got interested in the field and how you have developed your interest so far, demonstrating that you have some personal characteristics and skills which will make you a successful student and professional.

Yesterday I read a personal statement which looked like a list. When I asked the student to elaborate on some points, for example his internship with a professional, he said that he had taken a certificate from the professional – to certify that he has really interned. Hm.

First, some formats just don’t give you the opportunity to enclose such documents.

Second, even if they do, such a note does not say much about what you have done and learned.

Third, what if you are interviewed and asked to elaborate on the internship? Are you going to tell them that you have a certificate?

Talking intelligently about your experiences counts most when applying to college; it cannot be replaced by certificates, even if issued by the US president.

Being unable to talk intelligently sends the message that you are either unintelligent or just boasting about an experience you never had or trying to pass it off as something more special than it really was.

Here is my wisest tip: always imagine you are interviewed about the items you list in your resumes or mention in your essays. That will help you remember more and be self-reflective and coherent.

Your unique perspective +

In their supplement Colgate ask the following: We honor the many different forms of diversity in our community. Your perspective is valuable because it comes from your life experiences, family background, and culture. Please tell us about yourself and what you believe is the best way to share your perspective.
Also, what do you hope to learn from the experiences of others?

One of you wrote to me that it’s a question about what makes you different from the others. It’s true, but it’s essential to figure out who “the others” are. Too many students believe that “the others” are their current classmates, so they start comparing themselves to their classmates. Too often, in order to impress colleges, my students start telling bad thing about their classmates. That’s a mistake because:

1. You sound arrogant and self-righteous. You might have all the reasons to feel that your classmates are not as good as you are, but that is not something to be proud of. You might feel proud if, for example, you have tried hard to help them become as good as you are.

2. Colleges are interested in college applicants, not in college applicants’ classmates. An essay is an opportunity to share something about YOURSELF. Talking about your classmates in most often useless … at best. Of course, it is OK if your teachers compare you to your classmates – colleges actually ask them to do that.

Colleges are interested in how you compare against the rest of the applicant pool, but you are not the one who is capable of making the comparison because you don’t know the other applicants, so you don’t need to be involved in any kind of comparison making. What you have to do is explore yourself, take out the best and show it to colleges 🙂

The other part of the essay prompt asks for your elaboration on HOW you plan to enrich the college community with your unique presence there. Think of all possible aspects – academic and non-academic. You might wish to be very specific here and mention some specific activities offered by the college or some that you plan to create yourself.

And finally, the prompt ask you about your hopes to learn from the experiences of others. You should make sure you know where Colgate students usually come from, what they are like. Think HOW you can learn from THEM in different settings – in and out of the classroom.

Pissed off

Some people keep sending me the same essays under different titles.  As you may guess, these are motivational essays.

First,  I feel tired reading the same thing over and over again.

Second, it does not make sense to me. Does it make any sense to you?

Please, read my texts on motivational essays.

Some people say they don’t have any ideas. Am I the one to generate ideas for them? Well, do you really think that people who cannot generate ideas or don’t even try to are the most eligible top college applicants?

It’s your job to generate as many ideas as possible, to write huge self-inventories. It’s my job to read them and suggest which items are worth mentioning. OK?


Yesterday I watched a documentary about a Tai Chi master who taught in a public park in China. People said that they had to go to him at 6.30 every morning for three years before he deemed them serious and agreed to teach them. This anecdote could be used as an illustration of “Commitment” – another college admission criterion.

Most students are preoccupied with adding more and more items to their resumes. What they don’t know is the fact that colleges are not interested in serial club joiners. They are looking for people who can show dedication.

One of the signs of commitment is how much time you have invested in an activity. That is measured by the number of hours you dedicate every week  and also by the number of years.

The quality of your involvement with 1 activity is much more important than the number of activities.

Use of Resources

A student of mine was applying to an expensive private American high school. We were discussing her motivational letter, where she had written that she wanted to study there because they offered photography and web-design classes – activities she claimed she could not practice at home. I asked her if her family had a photo camera or a computer, and she told me that they had both. Then I asked her if there was someone forbidding her from using them to take pictures or create web-sites. She said, “Well, no, but we don’t study these at school.” Well, this statement did not explain why she did not practice photography or web-design on her own.

Too many applicants from my country believe that complaining about lack of resources would somehow help them get into college. Too many of them have access the Internet, digital cameras, libraries and cell phones. Admissions officers are aware of that because they know Bulgaria is an EU member, so it’s plain clear to them that we are NOT part of the Third World. Furthermore, they are not interested in what you haven’t but in what you have done. They are not interested in how you haven’t used what you lacked but in how you used the available resources. Not making use of available resources cannot be justified by lack of other resources.

I had a student who had neither a cell phone nor home access to the Internet but was offered fabulous financial aid by fifteen colleges, 5 Ivies among them. She never mentioned lack of resources in her application.

Colleges will not accept you because they pity you; they will accept you because you have become their hero – someone who has done his best out of what he has where he happens to live.

Believe it or nor, “use of resources” is one of their criteria for admission 🙂