The best essays tell a story about the applicant. The essay does not have to be the story of your whole life, but rather a glimpse of it—one that is rich with meaning, alive with imagery, and clear in purpose. It often helps to think about the impact that past events have had on you. A good strategy is to select one significant event that you can expound upon at length, using vivid details and thoughtful commentary.
You should begin with an engaging introduction, drawing your reader into the story. A creative way to do this is to drop the reader into the middle of the action and then fill in the before-and-after facts: Consider director Quentin Tarantino's movie "Pulp Fiction" as an example of how to engage your audience by telling your story out of sequence. Then present the rest of your anecdote, followed by insightful analysis of the experience—why it was important, what you learned, and how it will help you in the future. Stay away from creating an introduction that includes clichéd ideas or generalizations and then inserting your anecdote. By the time the admissions officers get to your experience, they may already be soured by generic assertions.
EssayEdge Extra: Words of Wisdom from Admissions Officers
"My own college application essay might serve as a useful illustration. I wrote about seeing the statue of Michelangelo's David during a trip to Florence, Italy. Up to that point in my life, I hadn't seen any art that really influenced me; I grew up in a rural area without many opportunities to view masterpieces of fine art. I saw in the statue of David his conflicting feelings of determination and fear. Upon returning to New York, I thought about that in relation to my stage of life, and I saw an analogy: I was determined and ready to take on the challenges of college but I was also scared of the unknown. I wrote about other instances in my life when I was willing to take on tremendous challenges and learned from my successes and failures (yes, it is all right to admit you are human in this process)."—Admissions Officer, Columbia University
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