studying for an AP class

Use Your Essay to Distinguish Yourself From Others

Before the Class of 2023 application season begins in earnest, you should understand the role that essays play in the assessment of your application byIvy League and other top-tier schools. In a recent article in the New York Times, Janet Morrissey summed it up this way:

The essay is your megaphone — your view of the world and your ambitions. It’s not just a resume or a regurgitation of everything you’ve done. It needs to tell a story with passion, using personal, entertaining anecdotes that showcase your character, your interests, your values, your life experiences, your views of the world, your ambitions and even your sense of humor.

As you brainstorm ideas for your essays, take some time to appreciate the function of essays from the perspective of admissions officers (AO’s). First, understand that AO’s are looking for reasons to admit you, not disqualify you. They want to learn more about you through an authentic personal statement. They seek demonstrations of your intellectual ability and your passion for learning, but they also want to see evidence of those characteristics that make you special as an individual. Through the essays required by highly competitive institutions, AO’swant to be able to form a clear picture of how you’ll fit in and how you plan to take advantage of their school’s resources.

In carefully written essays, you should provide insight into your personality, values, and goals. Your essays will appeal to AO’s at top-tier schools if they are intriguing, interesting, persuasive, and perhaps, depending upon the topic, entertaining. You’ll get no points for displays of erudition. Your essays aren’t term papers.

To use a term that most college administrators shun, you’re marketing yourself. In a college essay, marketing copy should be subtle. It’s not as bold and ingenuous as advertising-speak (e.g., “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee!”) or as unfettered by restraints as blog-ese. There are rules for writing marketing copy in college essay form, but they’re not the same rules that are valued in more formal types of writing. It’s okay to sin against orthodoxy to make a point or express an idea. And you can write grammatically while using vernacular American English. This way, application reviewers will perceive your core marketing message. If your essay accomplishes your objectives for it, the AO will devote more time to understanding and appreciating it and will advocate for your acceptance.

Should you ask your favorite English teacher to assist you with your college essays? If you do and they assent, you can be sure that your essays will be formal and grammatical and your word usage will be excellent. The teacher will most likely encourage you to build a case that supports the thesis, “I’m an ideal student for your school.”The downside of this approach, and it’s a big one, is that your essays are not likely to appeal to AO’s at top-tier institutions because, as noted above, they prefer to see essays that are “intriguing, interesting, persuasive, and …entertaining”.

Your essays will be evaluated for what they reveal about you – your maturity, character traits, and ambitions. In such a context, your knowledge of each particular institution to which you’re applying often makes a difference. If you can demonstrate how you’ll contribute to the lifeblood of their institution, your essay will be looked upon more favorably by AO’s. Guiding students in this institution-savvy approach to essay writing is one of IvySelect’s specialties.

So, what forms the basis of a great college essay? Writing that relates your personal experience and reveals a bit of who you are. If that essay ties into your passions, the essay will come alive. Try to tell a moving story and do so with authenticity. Don’t write something because you think it’s what AO’s want to see. Often, students envision admissions gatekeepers as old men wearing bow ties and tweed jackets. Then they write to that audience. Although a few senior AO’s may fit that profile, most admissions staff members are only a few years older than you are.

Your college essays can truly be the difference between whether you get into an elite school or not. What separates one student with a 4.3 GPA, A’s in 5 AP classes, and a SAT score in the 99th percentile from another student with nearly identical credentials? The answer is… nothing! Only their singular backgrounds, talents, and interests can distinguish such students from one another. Writing a compelling essay is the best way to explain how you’re unique, how you’ll contribute to the institution, and why the school should add you to its diverse mix. If you can make a visceral connection with the live human being on the other end of your application, the AO, you’ll have a leg up on the competition.

IvySelectcollege admissions consultants are experts at assisting high-ability students to craft essays that stand out from the pack. We invite you to contact us to learn how we can help you optimize your competitiveness in gaining admission to top-tier schools through our comprehensive, one-to-one,essay-writing program and other services.

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