Your College Essay: How to Express Uniqueness When You Think You Have None

You’re not the best athlete in the region. You haven’t started your own charity. Frankly, you’ve never had to overcome any significant life obstacles. So, what do you write about that doesn’t sound like millions of teens could have written the same exact 500 word essay? Alas, there’s hope, but first, put the pen and paper, err, keyboard away. It’s time for some introspection.

In helping students identify what to write about, I ask them to answer the following question, “What have you done that you are truly proud of”? Your answer isn’t limited to something school related. Really do some soul searching.Before you answer, here are a few ground rules:

· Your answer can’t be vague, so an answer like “I’m proud of my grades” won’t really help you, but talking about the fact that your GPA, or a grade in a class is much more than meets the eye because of what might have happened behind the scenes that your transcript doesn’t reflect.

· Be very, very specific. You’re 17 or 18 years old, no one is really expecting you to have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro or have won a Nobel Prize. Sometimes, however, a small anecdote about your life can reveal a lot about you. One student told me all he did extracurricularly was babysit. After some prying, I found out that he babysat for his baby cousin so the baby’s young, unmarried mother could continue with her college education. That’s pretty powerful.

· SHOW, DON’T TELL – don’t tell me that you’re hardworking… SHOW me. Tell me a vivid story, it will make a much more lasting impact on your reader and it will make your story more convincing, engaging and memorable.

Here are some anecdotes that will illustrate these points and demonstrate what does or does not work.

Example #1 Writing about your family – this isn’t typically an earth shattering subject. We all have a family. You haven’t necessarily been through any monumentally challenging times together, but how do you uniquely express their importance to you?

Compare these two openers:

My family is very important to me. My younger brother, mother and father are all very special to me, and I value our relationship. My parents are very supportive of all that my brother and I do.

Versus

The phone rings. It’s Tommy calling to indicate that our friends are going to see the new James Bond movie tonight. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this new flick, but before I blurt out my excited acceptance, I stop myself. This is the same night that my family has been planning to get our Christmas tree. This is always a special event. We pick out the tree as a family, bring it home, decorate it while consuming hot chocolate and my mom’s outstanding homemade cookies while my dad bellows off-key Christmas carols. I have not missed this event in 16 years, and I certainly was not going to start now. The same movie would be playing tomorrow night.

The first example tells while the second example shows.

Example #2- the supermarket cashier

Let’s suppose you don’t have a significant number of extracurricular activities. Perhaps it’s because you work hard at your job as a cashier at the supermarket. There are thousands of teens who do this same job. How do you write about this uniquely? Here are the stories of two people who did:

Joe started his 1000 character extracurricular activity essay on the Common Application talking about how he missed some gatherings with his friends and how sometimes he had to get up much earlier than he’d like, but that his job at the Supermarket had taught him a tremendous amount. He learned discipline because absences and lateness aren’t tolerated if he’s going to keep his job. He learned the value of a dollar since it takes quite a number of hours for his earnings to accumulate, so he spends his money wisely. He’s also talked about the friends he has made and how he considers this group to be like a second family.

Or

Another student worked as a cashier at a grocery store, and discussed her experiences like a sociological observation. She learned an awful lot about people based on their behavior as they stood in line or how they treated the cashiers. She shared some of these stories and told of how it made her more tolerant and more appreciative of small acts of civility and common courtesy.

Example #3 – Community Service – A lot of students are engaged in community service, and a great number of students who choose to write about their civic involvement tend to employ some pretty overused expressions in conveying their thoughts. “It was very fulfilling”, “I enjoy the feeling that I get when I help other people” or “it makes me feel good to help people who are less fortunate” are vague and overused. Again, tell me a story that SHOWS me how this work has impacted you. Examine the following example:

Nathan volunteered to help recovery efforts after serious flooding in a neighboring community. Nathan opens by describing himself as a 6 foot tall, 200 pound athlete, and, amidst the destruction, the sight that struck him most was a girl’s tiny pink Barbie purse found in a mud pile. After seeing that, it really hit him that a little girl and her family, had lost so much. He then goes on to describe the work he did including carrying mold infested wood to dumpsters and how he learned to sand wood floors, install vinyl siding, and more. He also talked about learning how to comfort people who have lost everything.

No vague, over-arching statements could have made Nathan’s story as vivid and as descriptive as his telling us what he saw through his own eyes. Breaking your story down into anecdotes is a fantastic strategy and will make your story much more engaging to your reader. Your reader will understand that your small story is probably an example of a greater whole, and your anecdotes will make your story much more memorable.

I’ll leave you with a final anecdote that was one of my favorite college essays, but not because anything the writer did was so earth-shattering, but instead, I like it because she showed me that she’s incredibly hard-working. This is something many of us can say, but how do we show it? Cari was a solidly strong high school student. She was on the track team, but was not a standout athlete. She was also in some clubs. Her junior year was rough. She suffered a severe case of mononucleosis (Mono) and missed a good bit of school. She suffered a stress fracture in her leg and was unable to participate in track which was her main social outlet, and then there was the crowning glory of her terrible year and she started her essay with this story.

She describes a feeling of nausea. She mentions looking out the window and breathing deeply to try to keep it at bay, but there was just nothing she could do, so in the middle of the SAT’s, she threw up. She goes on to talk about the mono, the missed school, the broken leg and anything else that went wrong during her junior year. She describes how the adults in her life suggested she drop her AP class because she was far behind in her work, but she refused. She talks about how hard she had to work to climb out of the hole she was in, but she just chipped away at it. In the end, her grades were as strong as always and no one would have known anything went wrong by looking at her transcript. She even was elected president of a club for her senior year. Then, in her closing sentence, she said, “In case you’re wondering, yes, I did make it to the bathroom during the SATs.

How to Write a Basic Essay With Ease – The Soap Method

When I write an essay, I learned a long time ago to break up my essay into parts. The normal essay should have an introduction, at least 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. But when you are not used to this, even writing the introduction can seem like an impossible task. That is where the SOAP method comes into play. This is an extremely helpful tool to anyone needing to write an essay. What the SOAP method does, is break down your essay so that you can figure out what your thesis is, because every essay needs a thesis. Once you have your thesis, the essay can be formed easily.

S-Subject

Think about the subject you are writing about. For example, let’s pretend I was writing about the benefits of ballroom dancing. My subject would be the benefits of ballroom dancing.

O-Occasion

What is the occasion that you will be writing about? Why are you writing the essay in the first place? If I use my last example, I would say that the occasion of my essay is to inform readers the health benefits of ballroom dancing.

A-Audience

Who are you writing your essay to? Who do you want to read it? This plays a big part of your essay because if you don’t know who you’re writing to, it will be pretty hard to come up with what to write. In my example, my audience is anyone who is wondering how to lose weight, and also anyone who is interested in ballroom dancing. When you know who you are writing to, you can figure out what kind of tone to take with the essay.

P-Purpose

What is the purpose of your essay? Are you trying to persuade someone, simply inform someone, or describing something? If you don’t know the purpose of your essay, you can easily get confused and lost. In my example, I am trying to persuade readers to use dancing to lose weight. That is my purpose.

Once you have these 5 things filled out, you have effectively figured out your thesis. With your thesis, you can start writing your essay. In my example, using this, I could do my introduction, and in the three body paragraphs I could explain three benefits of ballroom dancing and then write my conclusion. Pretty simple, right?

Tips For Writing a University-Level Essay

When you take the bold step to commence a university undergraduate course you are moving into a new realm of education, which in turn requires you to deliver a new level of academic work. This will involve giving presentations, completing research and writing university level essays. In order to meet the requirements of these essays there are a number of tips that you should follow which should set you on the track to academic success.

Firstly, remember that university essays should be well researched and contain lots of supporting evidence in terms of other people’s previous findings. This supporting evidence could be in the form of a literature review or just quoting others’ work throughout your essay. Any references to other resources must be credited appropriately. Be sure to follow your university’s specific guidelines in this respect as valuable marks can potentially be lost just by not applying the correct referencing method, or by applying the right method incorrectly. It may pay to familiarise yourself with whichever style your university uses, before you even begin writing. A common referencing style is the Harvard system of referencing which has very strict rules about crediting authors, research papers and journals etcetera but your University should be able to provide you with tailored guidance.

Secondly, a university level essay should try to delve deeper than a college level essay necessarily would. It should stretch and question theories and allow you to add your own knowledge and opinions in order to draw conclusions, some of which may never have been drawn before. This means you can’t just recite your lecture notes, there must be some individual application of knowledge, and this is a challenge that many new undergraduates struggle with.

As with all essays a university level essay should have a sound introduction, a thorough research and analysis section and sound conclusions. This should then be followed by a full reference list and a bibliography. Within all of these elements you should make sure that you format your work according to your university guidelines, this is good practice for when you come to writing your dissertation, as correct formatting and adherence to style guidelines could mean the difference between a first and a 2:1, in the same way, any essay, whether written at university or college should be proofread, preferably by a third party, to ensure that it is free from any spelling or grammar mistakes. Following all of these tips will allow your university level essays to achieve the grades you deserve and give you a good foundation for when it comes to writing your dissertation.

7 College Essay Writing Tips to Blow Their Socks Off!

1. Write your college application essay before your senior year begins. Senior year is very busy, and you don’t need another distraction from concentrating on what’s more important: your studies. Get it brainstormed, drafted, corrected and finally written before September 1.

2. Find a topic that you know better than anyone. For example, you’re a dancer because you use dance as a way to express with your body what you cannot express with your vocal cords. Who knows the language of your body better than you do? Who knows more about what you say with your dance than you do? You’re the expert, which is why it’ll be a whole lot easier for you to communicate what you want to say. Read: your essay can be one easy task!

3. Keep it simple. By way of illustration, let’s say you’re standing on a street corner and you witness a car crash in front of you; you were the only one who witnessed the crash, and the police have asked you to write a description of what you saw. Why did the police ask you? Because they know you are the expert in what you experienced in that brief moment of the car crash. You could write about a brief moment in your life that had some positive impact on you because you are the expert on how that moment affected you. Keeping it simple also means using simple words, so throw away the thesaurus.

4. Make your first statement of the essay the most powerful. Readers in a college admissions office believe 80% of the essays they read are a waste of time. So make your first statement a “hook” – a pleasant surprise that catches their attention from the get-go. Here are some example first-sentences of what some of my students wrote last year:

“I was suddenly surrounded by rifles pointing at me.” (theme: paintball) “It was clear that I was completely cut off from civilization.” (theme: wilderness hiking) “I had nowhere to go but down.” (theme: overachieving) “Pain was a requirement for me to succeed.” (theme: dancing/ballet)

5. Read your essay out loud. Besides your eyes use your ears to hear what you’re saying. Reading out loud gives you another sense of how the essay is moving, and you’ll be able to tell if it sounds right or needs improvement. Then get friends and family members to read and listen to what you’re saying. Ask for comments and suggestions.

6. Essays should be no longer than 500 words. Give the admissions reader another reason to LOVE you – keep it shorter than 500 words. The 500-word limit has been a standard for years, and the Common App now allows you to write more than 500 words. With short attention spans in a college admissions office, do you think colleges are excited that the Common App allows you to write more than they want to read? Less is more, or quality beats quantity every time.

7. Keep your essay upbeat and positive. My favorite college essay requirement comes from the College of William & Mary: “Surprise us!” What they’re asking you to do is write something that’s positive. Why? Like most colleges they’re so used to reading the seven deadly topics they don’t like: divorce, disabilities, death, dysfunctional behavior, trips, sports injuries, and boyfriend/girlfriend breakups. Not to write about these topics would be a huge surprise.

Alan Simpson’s "The Marks of An Educated Man" – A Review

In his essay, “The Marks of An Educated Man,” Alan Simpson writes that the training of the mind will help an individual achieve higher knowledge skills. The best results of liberal education cannot be achieved until the mind is trained to think clearly. Without proper brain-training a true liberal education cannot take place.

Since everyone’s brain does not function the same, the same amount of knowledge may not be present in two different individuals. Simpson talks of utilizing everyone’s capacity to think and examine life firmly, therefore making a true liberal education possible, which in turn allows for progress and reform in our educational system.

One of the main thoughts that Alan Simpson presents is the idea of not being afraid to make changes, especially if they will lead to progress in our traditional systems. Simpson goes on to state that a characteristic skill of an educated man is his ability to recognize phony doctrines. A certain amount of skepticism is needed to combat the fact-filled scam artists and fools that populate the earth today.

Without a proper education, we make ourselves more gullible to false teachings. The educated man has tried to develop a critical faculty for general use, and likes to think himself an excellent judge of phoniness. Having doubt allows a person to expand his or her insights on a subject. A person who seeks after a good education will usually ask questions and make sure he or she is given a good answer before being taken in by something false.

The fools, scam artists, and frauds in this wold can mislead others by presenting false messages. The majority who practice this are nothing more than blatant liars, but feel they have a sanctity about them that puts them above everyone else. These so called “authorities” are nothing more than fact finders and very often end up getting caught in their own traps.

Without a liberal education they cannot combine knowledge, skills, an standards. They are for the most part affected by the environment and the media. Lacking a liberal education makes them very open to scams and they are definitely not analyzing, praying, or thinking over situations as they should. These are the victims of prideful scam artists.

Having good liberal education skills can be a preventive device against highly educated scam artists. Shams are a reality to us even in higher education brackets. They surround us everywhere. From the professor to the scientist, both have been known to use invalid and shameful speech. Although persons at the university level can be taken in by shams, people who have little or no educational background are especially prone and will almost certainly fall prey to shams.

University students are influenced by professors and clergymen, but people in the outside of college world are largely influenced simply by what they read, view, and hear.

Simpson’s essay reveals that possessing liberal education skills enables a person to recognize false doctrines. Non-educated people will allow an individual to influence them negatively more than liberally educated persons. Educated persons help to keep the fools and scam artists in their place and away from the follies of human nature within shams.

Alan Simpson concludes his essay with a riveting and arousing statement: “We are none the better for not recognizing a clown when we see one.”