Your Admissions Plan: Essay Writing with Style, 3

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Anne MacLeod Weeks
Anne MacLeod Weeks

Anne has worked in college admissions for four decades and has published extensively on all aspects of the process. She taught AP English, consulted for the College Board, and was a leader in various educational initiatives in independent schools.

Now that your student has practiced that elevator speech, it’s time to make sure the essays, short and long, are in sync. You want to balance essay writing with style, still representing what your student has been communicating in the college search and visit.

Many students use the Common Application, and a growing number of students are using the The Coalition Application. Whether using one of these forms or using a college-specific application, crafting essays that demonstrate consistency and an understanding of the specific university is crucial to success.

How to Approach Essay Writing with Style

You and your student should begin by brainstorming possible topics. Once you’ve got those, all it takes is a simple formula to generate ideas and how to take those ideas further! Here are some excellent starting points.

I am Statements

List 10 “I am” statements that reflect things about the student not immediately evident through personal data, such as “I am an introvert” or “I am the sibling of a deaf person.”

Evidence: My POV

Most colleges ask recommenders to rank students on certain characteristics. Look at the list of attributes on the Teacher Evaluation Form. Choose 4-5 attributes from the grid that you and your student believe are characteristic of your student. For each chosen attribute, have your student choose a specific instance where they demonstrated that attribute and to write a descriptive paragraph in active voice about that instance. Your student can combine a few of the attributes in one description or write about them individually.

Ready to Stretch Your Muscles?

Next, read through the Common Application Essay Prompts and choose which ones feel most comfortable to answer.

Use the brainstorming topics your student has gathered and think about how they might apply to one or more of the essay prompts. For instance, if your student developed a program for middle school students who were living temporarily in the homeless shelter where your student volunteered, your student might demonstrate leadership, creativity, initiative, concern for others, and reaction to setbacks by describing the program they created and how one specific student or a group of students benefited. Of course, remember your student’s elevator speech! Be sure to incorporate those talking points your student has already shared with admission personnel.

The Secret Ingredient

Be sure to have several people read your student’s essay and to get honest feedback. If you or your student is not an effective proofreader, have someone proofread for you both. Be sure, though, the final product is your student’s own writing!

Secondary Essays (or Supplemental Essays)

Secondary essays can be either short answer essays, or supplemental essays. Short essays commonly focus on co-curricular activities. On the other hand, supplemental essays are specific to the individual college. A supplemental essaymay encompass intellectual prompts or responses on an honored tradition or value of the college.

The trick to short answer or supplemental essays is to reflect the same values and attributes your student demonstrated in their primary essay, but to vary the topic. Your student can highlight an interest they have that will match one of the college’s strengths. For instance, your student may plan to major in political science but loves music, a particularly strong department at the college. In your student’s short answer essay, they can highlight that music interest in order to cement their match to the college.

In the end, you and your student are crafting a holistic picture based on a thematic approach. Essay writing with style means marketing your student’s clear match to the culture of the college. This is how an admissions plan works.



Read the complete Your Admissions Plan series below.

  1. The Applicant Elevator Pitch
  2. College Networking Scenarios
  3. Essay Writing with Style
  4. Recommendations Proposal

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