Express Your Passion

by Naomi Millette
(Eureka, CA, USA)

The school admission process can be stressful, but just stay true to yourself and you are bound to get into a school that is right for you.

Approach the application with the mindset that you are choosing them, not the other way around. This isn't a job interview. You will invest a lot of time and money into your education. Make sure it is the education that you want and feel passionate about. If you intend to major in English and want to learn about contemporary American literature, don't apply to schools that specialize in Shakespeare. Do your research to make sure you are applying at universities that offer what you seek. This will help you in the application process, especially the essay portions.

Most applications require an essay. This essay is your chance to impress upon the school who you are as a person: your goals, your personality, and how your life experiences have shaped you. Don't use the essay to impress them about your excellent grades. In fact, don't worry too much about grades. They already know this information from your transcripts, and grades only partly factor into the selection process. Instead, use your essay to express your passion about the subject you will study and why you feel their particular program will help you achieve your goals. This is where your research will come in handy. You should be able to explain how specific qualities of their program are suited to your particular interests. Universities want to know that you have considered how their program is tailored to your goals. In addition, use your essay to explain how events or people in your life have led you to want to study this major. Passionate students tend to be successful, and universities want students to succeed. You may be chosen on passion alone, regardless of your grades.

With that in mind, don't over-embellish your goals, hoping to make a better impression. It's better to stay honest. For example, don't tell the school you intend to pursue a lifelong career as a volunteer-teacher in Africa if, indeed, you really want to teach literature to high school students in your hometown. If you are not honest, you risk your essay sounding ingenuous and will waste the opportunity to express your true intentions.

I encourage you to follow my advice. It worked for me. I've recently been admitted to my top-choice university based on three essays in which I expressed how my experiences led me to pursue education through their particular program. I wrote from my heart and showed my passion for the major and how education will build a foundation for my future success.

If you honestly express your passion and clearly state how the university will help you achieve success, you will likely be accepted into the school(s) of your choice.

Thanks Naomi for your passionate essay Express Your Passion. A great essay makes a huge difference as you discovered. Best of luck to you.

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Finding the Humor in Failure

by Emelia Black

The most important advice that I have for nervous college applicants is to simply be your own great self. I chose to exemplify this while writing my Common App essay about failure. The prompt formally stated something along the lines of “Choose a time that you failed and how it helped you become a better person and how you didn’t explode and the world didn’t end because you made a beeline towards the opposite way of your goal.” That may not be the prompt word for word, but regardless of the wording my initial thought was “hey, I have failed at a lot of things” so I chose that one.

The Common App essay is my favorite essay that I have written in my seventeen and a half year existence. It elegantly blends the phrases “socialite of the Eagle Scout initiation party scene,” “hot commodity,” and “ultimate loser,” among others to create probably one of the most awkward stories about a wool fabric sewing competition ever written. The best part is that Cornell University loved it. I am going to their Fiber Science and Apparel Design program this fall.

It might be possible that I have an unwise amount of confidence to submit an essay like that. But I have a few tips on why you should work your humor and nonchalance (even faked!) in order to stand out. I first noticed that it is a valuable asset when I visited Cornell and the three of us on the tour were asked to share one word that our friends would use to describe us. The results were “strict,” “studious (or driven, I forget),” and “I hope they think I’m funny because I think I am ha.” The admissions representative wrote our responses down for our files. In case they did not think I was as funny as I thought I was, I applied to five other schools, joined more clubs (four total), played on the tennis team, volunteered twice a week, and took four AP classes along with improving my art portfolio. I would have done those things anyways though- I made sure to not let high college standards rule my life.

I applied early action to Oregon State University and was accepted months before other applications were due. This definitely took some pressure off because I would have also loved to go to OSU. This left me feeling less stressed about applying to the other colleges. The deadlines were still incredibly hard to follow for art schools, so it was helpful that I had written some of my essays after the prompts came out in the summer and had already invested a lot of time in my art portfolio. The feeling of receiving the acceptance letters made it all worth it. I was accepted to the Fashion Institute of Technology, Pratt Institute, Oregon State University, and Cornell University. Following my own advice to not let failure affect your own fine self, to my letters of declination from RISD and Brown University I barely batted an eyelash.

Failure is supposed to be taken with a shot of humor, if it wasn’t then sitcoms or comedies or SNL wouldn’t exist. So on college applications, don’t forget to let your shining personality blind the reader with high wattage joy and a bit of laughter. If it connects to an admissions officer, they will want you to go to their school because you are more than just another one of the talented applicants, you are an individual. So please, let your loveable awkwardness bubble through, don’t be a jerk though, and if you don’t get in, then tell people what happened like it has the potential to be the funniest story they have ever heard.

Thanks Emelia for sharing about your essay in Finding the Humor in Failure. A great essay comes from the heart, and can make a huge difference in getting into your dream school. Best of luck to you.

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Write Your Way Into College

by Brianna
(Waukegan, IL, USA)

How do you get into your dream school? As cliché as it may sound, be yourself. If you have the grades and if you have the extracurricular activities that 90% of the prospective students have then you need to set yourself apart.

College admission offices are flooded with a sea of black, Times New Roman, size 12 letters on white sheets of paper every winter. Aesthetically every sheet looks similar so they expect you to wow them with your content. Stories about you dunking the winning basketball at your senior night game is not going to win them over because they’ve read the paper and seen the movie a million times before. Writing is a freeing art that allows you to paint your personality with words, so take advantage of that freedom.

My advice is for you to take out a piece of notebook paper and write down every important life experience that you’ve dealt with, write down your favorite quotes and your biggest inspirations, list your favorite movies and what physical characteristics makes you look unique. Your paper is going to fill fast and the end product is going to be messy. From that pull your favorite (or even more interestingly, your least favorite) word, phrase or event on that paper and write about it for your personal statement. These are the unique, personal stories that tell administrators that you’re the perfect fit for their school. It is going to set you apart from the clichéd 5 paragraph essays that will inevitably pile up on the admissions desk.

They know you’re smart, they know you were on varsity softball and Student Council. So was everyone else in the pile. Set yourself apart and that acceptance letter will be in your mailbox in no time.

I did this same exercise and was admitted to my top choice. On my finalized notebook paper, I noticed a motif: my hair. I had a doodle of it in the corner and on a timeline I wrote when I chemically straightened it, dyed it, and then cut the straightened parts off. I wrote about times I had to defend its bigness and curliness and the societal stigmas that come with having natural hair. My hair is unique and ties me to my family and my culture. In my personal statement, I started with the times I struggled with it and hated it and ended with how much I love my hair now and embrace every crazy curl. I integrated some of my favorite quotes, my inspirations and my favorite song, which I had written down on my notebook paper. At a school like Washington University, my grades and leadership experience would not have set me apart from the majority of the prospective students. But my hair, my culture and my interest in tearing down cultural stigmas did.

Thanks Brianna for sharing how to Write Your Way Into College. That essay is so important. Best of luck to you.

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