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MAR 11, 2020 • 11 min read
Arguably the most difficult part of the US college application process is the admissions essay, or personal statement.
It's also the most exciting part, because it's your chance to show admissions officers your personality.
If you're looking for some solid tips and advice on an effective admissions essay, you've come to the right place.
In this blog, we have an example of admissions essay so epic that it got its author accepted to five Ivy league colleges and few other big name players.
Further down, we've also got another example of an effective admissions essay from a Singaporean author, who was admitted into two Ivy League colleges among others.
These examples can help you with your own essay, but before we reveal the secret to success, we should cover some of the basics.
The common application personal statement is a 650-word essay that you will submit to all US colleges to which you apply.
Unfortunately, there's no "formula" for this essay.
If there were, then you'd be able to replicate that formula and get accepted on the merits of your essay alone... as could everyone else.
But while there's no one right way to write a successful essay, there are an infinite number of wrong ways to approach your personal statement, and you need to avoid them at all costs!
Here are a few tips to help optimise your essay and ensure you stand out from the pool of applicants.
Before you even begin to think about writing, you need to analyse the essay "prompt".
The common app personal statement requires you to choose from five prompts, which are basically starting points for your essay.
Pick the prompt that appeals most to you and start writing!
Most universities will revise these each year, so it's important to take a look at what has changed - if anything - and what you need to focus on.
Your essay is the best opportunity for you to showcase some of your talents, but it's also the perfect chance to show your passions, your personality, your willingness to grow, or your ethics.
Make sure you follow the prompt that best allows you to showcase your unique selling point. But don't let it stop you from being creative and thinking outside the box. You are going to have much more luck if you make the prompt fit you, rather than you trying to fit the prompt.
Yes, your college application is serious business, but it's not the time to play it safe.
Remember: you need to stand out, not blend in.
Write about something personal; this could be something you love, something you're proud of, or a moment in your life that changed you. Loosen up and write about something meaningful to you.
Follow a prompt - like this one from the 2018-19 common application:
Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
Let this idea or topic pour out of you.
Demonstrate your passions, how the idea has changed you, why this topic or idea has shaped you as a human.
Go into detail - detail beyond what the lay person would know. Or go into detail about what you don't know and why this fascinates you.
Your first draft will not be perfect, so don't get caught up trying to make it so. Just let the words flow onto the paper and spill your guts.
If you want your academic essay to be more than just another piece of paper in the sea of applications, then differentiate yourself with honesty.
Don't just write about your solid grades and strong work ethic during high school - this will go down faster than a lead balloon.
The college essay should paint you as an exciting, innovative, deep-thinking, passionate, and empathetic person with the ability to understand and dissect life situations - showing them to be an asset to campus culture.
Your essay needs to show why that's you, why you're different, and what you can offer.
You need to talk about something that impacted your life. A moment, a conversation, a game, a class, an interaction - anything. Just make sure you're true to yourself.
For example, Crimson CEO Jamie Beaton, who was accepted into five Ivy League colleges, wrote about failing at his first part-time job, while Soumil Singh, now a Harvard student, wrote about a game of cricket.
They didn't talk about how perfect and amazing they were at school or how impressive their grades were, they wrote about pivotal moments in their life - real moments that meant something to them.
You need to do the same.
Writing about personal, formative experiences are key to a successful essay.
College admissions officers read through literally thousands of essays each admissions round.
When it comes to standing out, first impressions count!
Don't wait until the body or conclusion to provide the meat of your essay or show your true colours.
Start off with a bang.
Give them no other option but to continue reading and grant you admission.
Powerful copywriting isn't something you're born with, but it is something you can learn. Professional writers share their tips all the time, some offering simple techniques to give your opening an edge, while others stress the importance of emotive introductions.
Each sentence should build on the last and compel the reader onward.
Good writing is done line by line.
This tip goes without saying: you must proofread your essay
Not James Joyce, nor Cormac McCarthy, nor Aravind Adiga, nor Sylvia Plath, nor Marlon James, nor Hilary Mantel, nor Hunter S. Thompson, nor any other famous writer or journalist in the history of time has had anything published without a review or an edit.
You are no exception (no offence).
Submitting an academic essay with a typo or incorrect punctuation could spell the end of your college career before it's even begun.
It immediately signals you have poor attention to detail.
Always get a second pair of eyes someone else to have a look at your admissions essay.
Whatever you do, never submit without reviewing!
The more narrow your focus, the more concise and effective your essay will be.
One of the most common mistakes on college application essays is students trying to fit in too many key messages into a short essay.
Trying to say too much can confuse the admissions officer and book your essay a one way ticket to the maybe pile.
Share the one thing that you learned.
Try to share one profound message, not ten lacklustre statements.
Crafting an unforgettable personal essay that expresses who you are and what you can bring to campus life can be the difference between you becoming an alumnus of the college or not.
And while there are infinite essay writing tips and hints you can find available on the internet, the best way to understand exactly what it takes to gain admission is to read and analyse previous examples – and parrot what they do best.
Guess what? I've started the process for you.
You're about to read a bulletproof example of a admissions essay that helped secure the author offers to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, UPenn, Columbia, Duke, and Stanford (he ended up choosing Harvard).
Then I've added some analysis at the end for good measure.
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
The apron drooped to my knees. I was emblazoned with the ʻHi, My Name is Jamieʼ sticker, coupled with a scarlet employee-in-training hat.
The ʻFresh not Frozen, Grilled not Friedʼ motto resonated in my mind. It was July 2011. I had taken the plunge and secured my very first part time job. I was flipping burgers, and I was excited.
I was accustomed to academia, to the sports field, to the stage, but this was an entirely fresh paradigm. Anuj, the staff trainer and joyously friendly employee tasked with the rather unfortunate challenge of having to teach me hamburgerological cuisine greeted me with a firm handshake. This guy meant business.
The familiar fast-food funk wafted through the tiny store like cologne in an airport duty-free store – overpowering, faintly nauseous and all-encompassing.
The filing cabinets in my mind usually reserved for physics formulas, economics jargon and debating cases were tipped out and crammed with permutations and combinations of burgers – Otropo, Chicken Wrappa, Bondi.
Exceptions to French conjugations were momentarily replaced with extra topping combos. The till became my new graphical calculator.
With surgeon-like precision Anuj modelled how to wrap a burger in four swift motions – place burger in the dead centre, pull wrap from left to right, then right to left, then roll the corners.
He gestured towards his demonstration model and motioned for me to take to the stage. It was show time! Unfortunately, my burger ended up looking like the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina. Anuj patted me on the back, said ʻyouʼll learn fastʼ – and smirked.
Suddenly the barricades were overrun and an influx of jandal-wearing, sun-glass toting beach-goers charged into the store. The orders came flying faster than budget cuts at a Tea Party convention.
I heard the petrifying three words ʻchicken tenderloin comboʼ. This was it, the Everest of my culinary career.
It involved delving into the bossʼs prized stock of ʻsucculent tenderloinsʼ as he had described, ʻthe highest quality meat we sell, expensive to buy and delicate to cook, we canʼt afford any mistakesʼ. I was handling meaty gold.
As the first tenderloin slapped onto the grill with a satisfying sizzle, I could imagine the bossʼs scorching eyes scrutinizing my every action from behind the prying lens of the staff security camera.
Sun-glass toter number two, the tenderloin culprit, then muttered ʻExcuse me! Sorry mate, my fault, I meant the chicken nuggets."
Silently, I screamed. I grimaced, pirouetted and pleaded with the security camera.
Anuj saw my face, contorted in anguish, and took to the rescue with business-like efficiency. He rolled his eyeballs.
In one graceful movement he scooped the tenderloins and flicked them into the cooler with one hand, and in perfect synchrony, removed the emergency chicken nuggets with the other.
His eyes glistened with intensity. With consummate mastery his arms flicked from grill to cooker to table to bread to wrap. In less than ninety seconds, the order was complete. The bossʼs eyeballs returned to their sockets. The day was saved.
I worship the Anujs of this world. Certain jobs may look simple but that simplicity masks years of expertise. My skills in the rococo art of burger flipping paled into insignificance beside the master. I learnt more than burger flipping that day. I learnt humility, respect and the value of a good chicken tenderloin.
The essay displays humility. Even though the author is a very gifted academic, he shows that he's not above flipping burgers.
His time watching and learning from Anuj demonstrates the candidate is eager to learn and marvels at expertise in any field.
The new burger-flipping environment challenged the writer, which shows that he's not afraid to push himself out of his comfort zone.
The juxtaposition between the mundane life of fast food work and the overall tone, which includes jokes and melodrama, demonstrates the author's insight and unique perspective.
The essay effortlessly shows the kind of person the author is and what he's likely to contribute to college life.
As we can see in the example essay, you must be brave and honest.
In order to differentiate your university essay, you must take risks.
Colleges respond to your ingenuity and self-awareness, not to your vast knowledge bank or a spiel of how impressive your were during high school.
The personal statement is your time to shine, so shine bright and show your true colours!