That College Application Essay

One of the break-out sessions offered at the CBS “Business of Getting into College” event addressed the college application essays. As an educator who has spent more than thirty years teaching writing skills at the high school and college levels, I was particularly interested in what Dr. Steve Kussin had to offer.

I am pleased to report that we agreed on the points he presented: The essay is an essential part of the application. Admissions officers do spend a good deal of time reading them, so students should put their best effort into demonstrating their writing skills. The essay provides the opportunity for students to indicate how they are different. They need to write in their authentic voice and have excellent grammar and punctuation. Writing is a recursive process; that means that it needs to be revisited and rewritten until it reflects the best effort the applicant can present. The process takes weeks, if not months, which is why I urge my students to begin early. Start drafting the essay the summer preceding senior year, before the academic year brings not only homework but the additional burden of college applications and FAFSA forms. After working on a draft, put it aside for a day or two to ruminate on the contents; then resume the revising.

Adhere to the guidelines presented in the application. If the directions call for 500 words, then submitting an essay of a thousand words is unwise. More is not better. Also, stay away from hackneyed topics like “dying grandmas” and “heroic touch-downs.”

Use perfect grammar and punctuation. Do not rely on electronic spelling or grammar checkers, which can often be unreliable. Remember that if a word is spelled correctly, the computer can keep it in the text, even if it’s the wrong word. Dr. Kussin related an incident in which a student who waited until the eleventh hour to write the essay neglected to proofread effectively. Thus, while he intended to include the word “harassed,” similar-sounding (but unfortunate) words appeared.

If using an essay for several schools, be sure to change the name of the institution before submitting it. Attention to detail is important and can yield positive results.

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