650 words. Thats it. Those few words are standing between you and the school of your dreams. For some of you, the blank page of Google Doc illuminating the computer screen taunts you as the words fail to come. Idea after idea is pushed to the side in favor of procrastination scrolling on TikTok or distraction from the latest YouTube video or murder mystery podcast.
It can seem insurmountable picking a topic for your college essay that will truly stand apart from the pack. How do you boil your life down to 650 words? How do you convey all of your experience and accomplishments in those few words? How do your worries and dreams transcribe to a 5 paragraph essay?
The answer is that it doesn't. Your college essay is only ever a piece of you; it can never be all of you.
When I was applying to college as a naive 17-year-old first generation college student, my essay was terrible. I wrote it like I had to hand it in to my very serious and academic minded History teacher. It was a dry piece of prose that detailed what I had accomplished and what I wanted to do. Even reading between the lines very little of my personality was present in the paragraphs.
Years later and I have made it my personal quest to ensure no other naive high school student makes my mistake. The college essay is not the time to write your dissertation on
*insert boring mcboring subject here. Rather, this is the time to let your personality shine and let the admissions counselors see, hear, and visualize who you are.
In 2013, Tina Fey stared in a comedy called Admission as a scattered Princeton admissions counselor. While the movie itself is a good watch for any high school junior/senior, it also offers one of my favorite scene depicting the college admissions process. It starts at a table behind the secretive doors of the Princeton admissions office with admissions counselors reading essays and slowly their voice is replaced by the character whose essay is being read and the person is visually seen in the corner of the room reciting the essay as though a mirage brought forth from the ethers to read the essay.
THIS is what your essay must accomplish. As the admission counselors read your words can they visualize who you are? Will your humor shine through? Or your passion? Or your love? Or your fear?
As I said from the start, your essay does not need to encompass all there is of you. Walt Whitman once said, "I am large; I contain multitudes." And you, like Walt, contain much more than can be condensed into this essay.
To truly wow the admissions committee, you must identify the topic that sets you apart and means something to you. When is a time in your life that you were challenged and you rose to the occasion? Or when did you learn a life lesson? What is THE thing that you would want the admissions counselor to know about you..that you would want them to take away from your essay?
Now is the time for you to do a deep dive into your life. I tell my students to think about what the chapter's would be about if they were writing their autobiography. Do any of those chapters resonate with you?
If you need additional help planning out your college essay, Target College Admissions offers a 3 day bootcamp that will take you from zero to ready to submit. You will write your essay and complete your Common Application. If you have an essay written and want additional feedback; we also offer detailed essay feedback where we will grade your college essay and give you the tools you need to take it to the next level. If you have any questions please reach out by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us at +1 (325) GO-TO-IVY.