Narrowing Focus and Planning Essay: College Admissions Essay Help
With fewer than five minutes to make an impression on the reader, application essays must stand out—quickly. Once you've got a topic and subject, it's important to get your ideas in order, and gather the details that will get attention. By focusing, organizing, and detailing, you'll be able to present your story effectively and uniquely. Then you can turn your attention to using each part of the essay—introduction, body, and conclusion—to further enhance it.
Narrow Your Focus
Two of the most common problems with application essays are that they tend to be similar and hard to follow. Almost everyone who's writing an essay is the same age and have had many of the same experiences. Even if the story is unique, over arching themes and descriptions used by high school students are fairly common. And when those students try to cover too much in the essay, it becomes hard to follow. But both of these problems can be remedied with one technique: focus.
In this context, focus means having a clear vision of what will be covered, and making sure the material is the right length for an admissions essay. With focus, you won't try to explain too much, skimming the surface and jumping from point to point because there isn't room for more thoughtful consideration. Think of focus as a very strong magnifying lens that enlarges just a key part of a long story. When you zero in on such a limited section, you can delve into it more deeply, exploring details and adding descriptions that enliven it.
Using that lens also raises your chances of being unique. For example, thousands of high school students play soccer. Most of them have played on winning teams—and losing ones. Their experiences with the sport are bound to be very similar. But, take a magnifying lens to one game, and then to one aspect of your participation in one game, and you're getting to the personal instead of the universal.
Try the lens in terms of piano lessons. Narrow the focus: the types of pieces you play? Maybe. Your teacher as a great influence? Probably done many times. Helping you overcome your fears? Good! Whether it's stage fright or the intense learning curve involved in mastering a piece, the fears associated with the instrument are a personal angle on a common theme. Notice that by focusing the topic, two things happen: it becomes more interesting, and it stands out because it's less generic. In addition, that magnifying lens is also helping to frame a story that can be covered well within the size limitations of the application essay.
Plan First, Write Second
Many writers view outlines just as they view the brainstorming process–as a waste of time. Why not simply jump into a first draft? Here are a couple of reasons why you shouldn't: this is a high stakes assignment; in fact, it's probably the most important essay you'll write in high school. An outline not only gives you a plan to follow, but the act of creating one can help you organize and clarify your thoughts. It makes clear which points you want to make, and how they relate to and follow one another.
An outline can also help you build anticipation, grab attention, and make a better impression. Just changing the order of paragraphs and adding a few transitional sentences can heighten the momentum of an essay. Still not convinced? An outline will help you maintain focus by using the magnifying lens. With an effective outline you won't veer off course, miss important points, or go off topic.
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