Meet our guest blogger Dr. Josie, Founder of Write Your Acceptance, University Lecturer, Published Author, and College Essay Expert. Dr. Josie has 10+ years teaching at the college level (she is currently teaching writing at the University of Miami) and helping students craft their college essays. Dr. Josie shared with College Scoops her advice for college applicants when tackling the college application essay.
The main college application essay is not a byte-sized caption. Rather, through prose, the student needs to stretch out on the page and show breadth. Therefore, it’s not just telling a pretty story. This is what most students fall prey to, thinking that they can narrate an experience or memory and be done. The real work happens after the anecdote, after the emblematic story. Here is where analysis and intellectual curiosity are demonstrated, allowing students to showcase leadership and other strengths – like kindness, unique perspectives, playful self-assessments.
But how important are the essays?!? Essays fall into the soft factors bucket. The first line of candidacy is measured by test scores and GPA along with the strength of the curriculum. The tricky part is that if you’re applying to a varied list of schools, which is great, you have a few schools considered safety options, then another few target schools and then another handful of reach schools. For the target and reach schools, the reason why you’re competitive is precisely because you have the ‘right’ test scores and GPA. Therefore, you are like hundreds if not thousands of the other students who have the same or similar credentials.
——> how do you stand out then? The essays!!!
This is your microphone, your direct line of communication to the admission officers. And since it’s not an interview where we get nervous and fumble our words, students have the time to really craft a compelling proclamation of self…really showcase all your amazing, jazz hands smarty pants status!
So, to successfully draft a moving, compelling essay that gets you noticed you need to walk TWO paths – artist and critic:
1. Artist – After thinking about the type of narrative you want to tell – whether it’s a story about identity, culture or about overcoming obstacles – you then target the 1-3 short anecdotes you will tell throughout the essay that SHOW these larger themes. To tell an effective anecdote you want to think in media res, Latin for in the middle of things. My best advice is to draft a story, beginning, middle, and end, then pick the climactic or most exciting line and that’s your first line for the essay. It’s usually not the beginning where you set up the story, people etc. but that’s fine. After that first line and you share the best, juiciest part of the anecdote you can share the succinct backstory. Use the 5 senses and lots of images, like I’m watching a movie of your life.
2. Critic – Once you have the main, emblematic anecdote, identify a couple of symbols worthy of analysis. Generally, towards the second half of the essay you want to break down significant symbols and what you have learned, lessons learned on gender, identity, living in the NOW, lived experience versus our digital self…whatever your main message.