How to Write a Winning Personal Statement: Evaluating Your College Admission Essay (page 2)
What Are Some Do's and Don't About Essay Writing?
There are some definite do’s and don’ts when writing the personal statement and answering other essay questions.
- Be sure to answer the essay question; don’t stray too far off the topic.
- Show, don’t tell.
- Demonstrate, with specific examples, your interest in a college.
- Incubate or think about your first draft for a few days.
- Revise and proofread many times.
- Show your essay to family members, your English teacher, and your guidance counselor.
- Use the voice of a 17 year old.
- Share any challenges or obstacles that may have impacted your academic performance.
- Be your own advocate. Take risks in your responses to essay questions.”—Mitchell Thompson, Scarsdale High School and former admissions counselor
- Be yourself!
- Don’t discuss something that is too controversial.
- Avoid clichés.
- Don’t name the wrong college in your essay. If you are applying to the University of Rochester, don’t say, “. . . and I really want to attend the University of Scranton because . . .” This mistake can cost you dearly, so be very careful when proofreading your essay.
- Don’t use gimmicks, sending gifts or other things with your essay.
- Don’t tell a story or focus on other people too much.
- Don’t repeat what’s in the rest of your application.
- Don’t hire anyone to write your essay.
- Don’t use a thesaurus, and avoid big words unless you really use them and you know what they mean.
Some topics to avoid
- “Avoid writing angry essays.”–(Raymond Lutzky, RPI) If you write about how you are upset about the lack of funding for stem cell research, you may offend some readers with your political leanings. Be passionate in your essay, but be careful not to show anger about issues dear to your heart where others may have a different opinion.
- “Avoid essays where the end result is that the reader should feel badly for the applicant. Some students attempt to shock or make the reader feel guilty.”–(Raymond Lutzky) If you have suffered from a serious illness, you do not want the reader to feel sorry for you.The essay can emphasize how you have overcome your obstacles.
- “Avoid self-aggrandizing or boastful essays.”–(Nancy J. Maly, Grinnell) If you are the winner of a prestigious contest or competition, stress your accomplishments in such a way that you do not come across as showing off or acting conceited.
- “Avoid maudlin or sad topics, such as death, violence, divorce.”–(Nancy J. Maly) Be careful writing about sad events, as counselors read many of these essays. If your essay has a different slant to it, you can attempt the topic; otherwise stay away from very sad or depressing topics.
- “Don’t make assumptions regarding what admissions officers want to know.”–(Mitchell Thompson) Be genuine, and write about what’s important to you. Don’t pick a topic because you think it’s what the reader wants to hear.
Evaluating Your Essay
Reading other people’s essays can give you an indication of what makes an effective essay. Just remember that essays are subjective, so what one reader really likes, another reader may not like at all. Your essay should be original and it can be on any topic you choose as long as it answers the essay question. The personal statement should honestly reflect who you are and what you’re thinking. Writing essays gives you the opportunity to tell admissions counselors something about you that is not clear from the rest of the application. It is a chance for you to advocate for yourself. The checklist below can help you evaluate your personal statement and other essays you write for your college application.
* = Needs work
** = I did an okay job
*** = I did a very good job
**** = I did an outstanding job
Is your opening sentence attention-grabbing?
Did you show, not tell?
Did you use descriptive words and give vivid details?
Did you edit, revise, and proofread?
Does the essay convey your experiences, impressions, and beliefs?
Did you answer the question?
Have you kept the reader in mind?
Did you use a 17-year-old voice?
Did you show your essay to a few select people?
Do you have a clear interest or passion?
Did you write from the heart?
Is your essay well written?
What are the overall impressions of your essay?
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