|Q: How do I begin to write my essay?
A: Start by reading the Common App essay prompts.
- Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Then try these brainstorming tips.
Q: How many essays will I need to write?
A: It all depends on what colleges you are pursuing and how many you will apply to. If you are applying to the UCs (University of California schools), you will need to write a personal statement (UC Berkeley’s personal statement requires 2 prompts).
Q: How long should my essays be?
A: Your main essay can be up to 650 words (on the Common App); your supplemental essays will vary but should be under one page.
Q: When are my essays due?
A: Depends on the school. Go to www.CommonApp.org and open an account if you have not. Add the schools to which you are applying. Click on each school to find out its due date. Most Early Action or Early Decision are due Nov 1.
Q: What should my essay be about?
A: In a word, you.
Q: What is the difference between an essay and personal statement?
A: The difference between an essay vs personal statement is the topic. However, in the case of a college application, the essay topic becomes YOU. That is why there is a blur between personal statement and the essay prompts for a college application. The personal statement is a form of essay that is autobiographical about you, the author. Berkeley explains it the best: http://admissions.berkeley.edu/personalstatement
Q: What are college admissions officers looking for?
A: They want to make sure that you are a good fit and that you are passionate about their institution:
- Who is this student (his/her character and maturity level)?
- Will this student contribute something of value to our campus and to society?
- Will this student be able to take advantage of the resources and opportunities our campus has to offer?
Here is how the University of California system explains their evaluation http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/freshman/how-applications-reviewed/index.html
Q: How do college admissions officers evaluate my essay?
A: Each school has its own criteria and different readers will prefer different elements. Michael Gulotta, Associate Director of Admissions at American University, for example, has told me he most looks to the essay to assess a student’s writing ability. But Rick Diaz, Regional Director of Undergraduate Admission at SMU, is less interested in writing ability and more interested in a student’s story. Remember your audience, they have thousands of essays to read so make it as easy for them to remember your essay as possible. Keep your reader interested and do not let admissions figure out who you are. Find out how UCC can help you stand out in your essay with out Editing Services
Q: So which is more important: your story or your writing skill?
A: Both are important. A good story has to be well told. If the story is not well told, your reader will not be able to follow the story. It has to be a story that demonstrates who you are and your character.
Q: When should I start writing my essay?
A: You should start preparing for your college essays as early as possible, preferably during summer. If you are reading this fall of your senior year and you have not started yet the answer is probably right now. Remember, it takes several drafts before you perfect your essay for admissions to review.
Q: How much do essays matter?
A: It depends on the college, but generally between 10% and 30%. Essays tend to matter more for small schools, private colleges, ivy leagues or schools who look at applications holistically.
Q: If my grades are bad, can I get into Harvard with a great essay?
A: Yes and No. Harvard is one of the colleges that will look at your GPA, course rigor, dedication to activities and test scores. When you are being compared to other students with similar GPA/SAT scores, your essays can make a difference. However, if you have an outstanding talent like top football player or a violin genius, Harvard will make an exception and even fight for you so that you do not consider another university. Be extraordinary at something and stand out from all the other students!
Q: What is holistic review?
A: When a college reviews your entire application carefully (sometimes more than once) and considers:
1) Complete academic record of achievement in college preparatory work in high school, including the number and rigor of courses taken and grades earned in those courses.
2) Personal qualities like leadership, character, etc.
3) Contributions to the intellectual and cultural vitality of the campus.
4) Standardized test scores and results.
5) Other evidence of achievement like extracurricular activities, enrichment programs and/or volunteer work.
See UC Berkeley’s thorough explanation:
Q: Can a bad college essay negatively affect my application?
A: Yes. Colleges want to know if you are able to communicate effectively.
Q: What should I write about?
A: You. Help admissions understand what makes you, YOU! Or a combination of things that are uniquely you. What are those things? Here’s a brainstorming exercise to help you figure that out.
Q: What’s the difference between SAT and SAT2?
SAT2 are subject tests and some (not all) universities require SAT2. Not all universities will require you to submit SAT or SAT2. Read their requirements carefully.
Q: Test scores and cut off
There are some things test scores simply do not measure. American University know that students from China and other foreign countries test well. What these standardized test do not tell college admissions is if your English skills are strong enough to understand a college level class. Are you able to ask questions and participate in class? 60% of US admissions care more about whether you can use English at a college level or not. Universities give you the average test score on standardized tests but that means that some scores are high and some are low. If you do not meet the average, you can still apply so long as the remainder of your application is strong (like grades, activities, leadership etc). Universities are looking for students who are the best fit for their campus and are mature enough to take advantage of what their campus has to offer. You need to demonstrate to the university that you are a good fit not just tell them or score high on standardized tests.
Q: How shall I prepare for college admission interviews?
Interviews are not required but UCC highly recommends that you request an interview with your top choice university. Demonstrate to them that your English is good enough to attend their class and to engage with other Americans. If they do not have any alumni who can interview you in your home country, then ask if you can speak to them over Skype. If not, hire a video interview company to video tape your interview and send a copy of the video to the university.