Students applying for college are required to write one or more essays. This is so the colleges can “know” a student, that is, so the admissions committee can differentiate one student from the thousands of other students who apply.
So, most importantly, a good essay must make a student stand out. How?
Not by good vocabulary or varied sentence structure or clear organization. That is a given. Not by expressing passion for a school or a major. Most students can do that. No, something else is required.
That something else is what writers call “voice.” Voice means that when the admissions committee reads an essay, they can picture the real live person who wrote it, a person with a distinct personality which comes through loud and clear.
To write that kind of essay, students need to reveal themselves being vulnerable or using self-deprecating humor or showing a shortcoming as well as a strength. Here are a few examples.
- A student through no work of her own earns straight A’s in math. She listens and understands without studying. She captains a competitive math team. But she confesses that as easy as math is for her, reading is hard. She reads some words backwards and guesses at long words. She depends on other people to read aloud to her. She writes this in her essay, not bragging about the math or apologizing about the reading. What will the committee remember? Her honesty.
- Another student admits he is a skinny, muscle-challenged nerd. He recalls an instance when he felt put on the spot, needing to compete in an athletic contest against a real jock. The jock went first, accomplishing the challenge easily. The nerd followed, the eyes of every classmate on his scrawny body. Slowly, painstakingly, he competed. Breathless after a couple of minutes, he paused, hearing kids screaming. “Go! Go! Go!” For him! He resumed, narrowly beating the jock and collapsing. But for one brief, shining moment, he knew the thrill of victory, the thrill of girls cheering his name. What will the committee remember? His bravery. His self-deprecating humor.
- Still another student writes that she was asked to be a camp counselor for the summer. Hardly any salary, but swimming in a lake, hiking on mountain trails, and sitting around campfires cooking s’mores. She yearned to say yes, but her mother needed her to babysit her siblings while school was out. “One of the hardest things I ever did was to put the letter to the camp director in the mailbox,” she wrote. What will the committee remember? Her compassion.
Students, if you are reluctant to reveal yourself, your essay probably isn’t good enough. You needn’t bare your soul, but you do need to get uncomfortable to let your voice shine through.