The College (STR)ESSay

Not the face you want to see from your admissions counselor while reading your essay. (L to R: Counselors Kari Kolb and Betsey Bachert)

When I meet with potential Transylvania students in the fall of their senior year, I like to make sure they’re on track for hitting our app deadlines. My usual question of ‘How’s your application coming?’ is often met various versions of an all too familiar response: “It’s all done…except for the essay.”

Yes. The dreaded essay.

It is understandably the most difficult piece of the application process because it is the most personal thing you will submit to colleges in order to begin building a connection with them and *hopefully* be admitted or qualify for scholarships.

I have read a lot of essays in my days of working in admissions and the good ones always have one thing in common: a sense of personality. At the risk of being redundant allow me to repeat, GOOD ESSAYS HAVE A SENSE OF PERSONALITY.

As admissions professionals, we read a LOT of essays. I can tell you on behalf of application readers everywhere that we are not looking for one magic formula or an absolutely perfect essay, but we can tell when someone is passionate or engaged while writing their college essay and those are the ones that are honest and true to the individual.

While I could go on and on about the good the bad and the ugly (and I actually will if you attend one of my sessions at our Fall Preview Day on September 22—sorry, shameless plug), I will leave you with these top 3 tips to getting started:

  1. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re a geek, be a geek. If you’re a whimsically romantic poet, write us a poem to prove it. Your college essay should read like a (grammatically correct, very well proof-read) blog post and should show us a snapshot of the person we will be getting on our campus the next fall!
  2. Pick something that you’re passionate about or interested in (not just something you think your reader is interested in) and write about it in relationship to you. Never lose a sense of first person. This essay is YOUR chance to share about YOU.
  3. Start early and write 2 or 3 different first paragraphs that answer different Common Application essay prompts. Then, put them away for a few weeks—or for a few days, depending on how close to the deadline you start! J Usually the hardest part of getting started is facing that blank screen. This strategy gives you a head start and provides you with a few options so that you can then finish the essay you’ve already started that has the most potential.

– Betsey Bachert,
Assistant Director of Admissions


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