Cheers to the Individual: Writing an Outstanding College Application Essay

7 Aug 2017

Jordan Fulmer | March Consulting Educational Consultant

There are thousands of applicants each year with the perfect unweighted 4.0/weighted 5.0 GPA, the 1600 SAT/36 ACT, and the robust list of community service/academic achievements. Tough advice I received back when I was applying to colleges: when it comes to admissions, there is always someone academically better than you. Moreover, when it comes to service hours, someone always has more than you.

That might sound cynical or disconcerting but trust me, it’s not supposed to be. Rather than alarming or discouraging you, this news should bring some relief. Let me clarify: despite having perfect academic and/or service requirements, many students still get rejected from universities. In fact, other students with less impressive academics get accepted over the so-called perfect achievers. Why? First and foremost, universities want an individual. That is not to say that you shouldn’t have a competitive academic and community service resume (you 100% should), but rather you should also have unique, innate qualities that no other prospective college student could emulate.

Of course, there are universities out there that simply go off of your academic achievements. Yet a majority of universities (including every Ivy League school) requires you to write an essay. This is where your individuality shines through.

In short: be weird.

I’m aware there are preconceived notions of college essays being “difficult,” “anxiety-inducing,” and “downright torturous.”  The funny thing is they don’t have to be. If anything, an essay is a playground for your mind. It’s creative problem solving: what can I share about myself that would inspire an admissions officer to take a chance on me?

For example, there was a student (we’ll call her “Anna”) who hit a roadblock with her essay that she couldn’t seem to pass. My friend who was working with Anna at the time started brainstorming before asking, “What’s your favorite Disney film?” After long deliberation, Anna settled on Inside Out (a film which highly resonated with her). For those who don’t know, Inside Out is a film in which a young girl’s personified emotions help her maneuver her way through life. Anyways, my friend and Anna then started to wonder: if Anna’s own mind was personified, which emotions would lead her? This led them to mimic the conceit of the film (personified emotions), and together, they created a play of Anna’s emotions leading her through high school. It was wondrously creative, strange, non-traditional, and, ultimately, successful.

Anna was granted admission from an Ivy League university for being, above all things, uniquely herself.

To reiterate, important aspects of your academic/community service careerGPA, SAT/ACT scores, academic competitions, volunteer hours—should never be ignored; they matter greatly. However, when applying to a university, these statistics should not be your only be-all and end-all. There has been many a student who was granted entrance to a top tier universally mainly on the strength of their personal essay. Essay writing is a key way for universities to get to know you in all your splendor: your hobbies, your struggles, your victories, your doubts, and, most importantly, your personality. Ultimately, this is one of the few places where there are no formulas or set guides, just the unbridled you.

Want some focused attention crafting your unique application essay? Join us for our workshops Aug 10-11 and Aug 19-20.

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