Are you working on your common application and looking for ways to make it even better? Well, your essays are certainly a good place to look. In this video I will talk about 3 dumb mistakes students make when writing essays for the common application, so that you guys can avoid them and make your essays as awesome as possible!
The three common issues are student essays which are:
Now, lets go through this list one by one and discuss what each point means and how to avoid it. In the video, you can see some sample essays that I wrote based off of real student essays to illustrate what not to do in your essays.
1. Essays that are Melodramatic
Many students write their essays as if they have decades of experience in the real world and know just about everything. Students become so preoccupied with showing that they are passionate that the essay becomes a tale of self-aggrandizement rather than one that is in any way inspiring or powerful.
Students applying to college are most often in their later teen years, meaning that the one thing they don’t have is knowledge and worldview. This isn’t to belittle any experiences you have had thus far, but perspective and context is important. I sincerely doubt that portraying your experiences as pushing the limits of human understanding will show you in a positive light. These essays often also have an “over the top” nature that is unappealing and detracts from your central message. You don’t want to create a disconnect between you and your reader by using these kind of extremes.
In contrast, it is probably better to show that you understand the limitations of your knowledge, which can portray you as humble, intelligent, and down to earth.
Looking at an example essay, we can immediately identify this melodramatic style.
Since I was only a toddler, the sound and the sight of a piano have mesmerized me. Music takes us to places beyond reality. It is the energy of life itself.
This introduction screams “Music is so amazing. Look at me, i’m soooo passionate.” It is simply too much and already begins to distract the reader from what you may be actually trying to say.
Despite the challenges, organizing rehearsals in our overbooked music practice rooms, agreeing on music, and overcoming the obstacle of where to do gigs, we persevered.
Here, this style has the effect of overemphasizing the importance of the writer’s musical activities, while in reality it was just a music club (which is still cool!). And by saying that finding where to do gigs was such a large obstacle, the writer actually shows that he/she lacks perspective on what real hardship is.
From there our performances continued, spreading the love to the elderly, children, and veterans. Our musical abilities only got better and better. We shared the harmony of music with others, and there is no greater feeling in all the world.
Notice that almost everything is emphatic and superlative. There is no room left in this essay for the rest of the world which, once again, shows a lack of perspective. It is much better to stay grounded and keep your experiences in the context of the real world. Instead of spending time on hyping up whatever it is you are writing about, you should work on complexity and nuance – your powerful central idea.
2. Essays that are Impersonal
Essays become impersonal when the focus leaves the writer and becomes about something or someone else. This is extremely important to avoid because the college essay becomes useless the moment that it says little to nothing about you.
One way that essays become impersonal very quickly is when students write about academics. It is possible to write a good essay about academics, but not easy in any way, which is why most college essays stay away from this topic.
Essays can also become impersonal when they discuss someone else, such as a relative or close friend. While many solid essays can be written this way, you have to make sure that the essay and its core message is still about you.
Now, let’s look at an example of an essay that is impersonal (and also impenetrable, but we will get to that later).
The outcome of the experiment met the team’s expectation and it turned out to be successful. I was the data commissioner in this research. It required excellent mathematical aptitude. The result discovered in our research was calculated with the formula T = 2π√l/g, to study the margin of error that exists in the data they collected and prove the rationality of the formula.
The problem I already see with this essay is that it says little to nothing about the student. The only piece of information that I have gathered after reading half a paragraph is that the student conducted research as a data commissioner, which I easily could have found out looking at his/her common application. In addition to the fact that there is no personality in the writing, the reader is left with no clue as to what the desires or aspirations of the writer are.
3. Essays that are Impenetrable
Impenetrability really has to do with the accessibility of your essay. Accessibility is achieved by successfully connecting your story with a central idea that anyone can relate to. After all, the people reading your essay don’t know you nearly as well as you know yourself, so the impact has to come from somewhere else.
One neat little example to sum this idea is that, if someone reading your essay knows that you’re interested in something, but they don’t know why you are interested in it, then you may have an impenetrable essay on your hands.
Looking at the second part of the same essay as above, we can easily see why this essay could be described as inaccessible.
In a chart, I recorded the data of the amount of pendulum swinging time and pendulum length. There were in total eight experiments in this research and eight results were recorded. However, the 6th one was neglected because of the irregular amplitudes of the swinging. The other seven results were substituted into the formula and the outcome derived from running the mathematical operation.
As you can see, this essay reads more like a lab manual than a piece of creative writing. While the student is trying to show mathematical prowess and his/her intelligence, the reader is shut out and left scratching their head as to what the heck they just read. After reading your essay, a reader should feel like they just learned something new – they shouldn’t feel clueless.
Instead, let the reader in. Be welcoming, and show the reader what they want to see. Don’t just say what you did, but tell us why you did it and what you learned. You always want to write in a way that inspires us, instills new information in a comprehensive way, and perhaps most importantly, shows your own personal voice. You do this by writing a story, not a description or manual or itinerary.
One quick tip I would like to share with you is idea of the “aha moment.” A way to revive an impenetrable or underwritten essay is to develop this moment or period, in narrative form, where you came to understand something profound that you didn’t before. This can have the effect of bringing the reader along with you on this mental journey of realization and provides an opportunity to show personal growth and explain why you did what you did. Best of all, this forces you to tell your story.
Hopefully these tips are helpful and make you think a little bit more when you are writing your essays. Remember to tell a story, let your readers in, and show something new about yourself. Good luck!