How will your essay stand out, even if you think you are writing about a topic common to most applicants? Details, details, and more details. The reader needs to know what makes your story unique. To differentiate yourself from other applicants and help your essay stick in the minds of admissions officers, you need to incorporate, for example, names of people and places, times and dates, colors and textures of objects, and degrees of feelings.
Too often, an essay with an interesting story will fizzle into a series of statements that tell rather than show the qualities of the writer. As a result, the essay succumbs to the usual clichés: "the value of hard work and perseverance," and "learning from mistakes." The following example will help you understand the difference:
Before: I developed a new compassion for the disabled.
After: The next time that Mrs. Cooper asked me to help her across the street, I smiled and immediately took her arm.
The first sentence is vague and could have been written by anybody. The second sentence, however, evokes a vivid image of something that actually happened, placing the reader in the experience.
Admissions officers will appreciate good use of detail. They will be able to assess that you are a mature candidate capable of getting others to understand the uniqueness, significance, and value of your experiences.
EssayEdge Extra: Words of Wisdom from Admissions Officers
"Write about the specific rather than the general, the concrete rather than the abstract."—Admissions Officer, Stanford University
Next: Tell a Story