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Personal essays vital to admission

Gerald Bradshaw

Gerald Bradshaw

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Updated: January 1, 2013 6:18AM



Mr. Bradshaw — I have been putting off writing my college essays, and now it is getting to crunch time.

It is not so much writer’s block as it is that I just can’t find anything interesting about myself about which to write. I am not sure what to say or how to say it.

Please help. — Stumped Student Dear Student

— First, it’s important that you understand the essays are a hugely important part of your application.

If nothing else, let that fact prime the pump and start the adrenaline flowing. Almost every college applicant Must write an essay about himself or herself.

I will add a little fuel to the fire by pointing out that essays can make or break your chances of admission.

Applicants must separate themselves from the pack because there are only so many openings. And, when it comes time for the admissions committee vote on your application, my view is that a well-written group of essays will set you apart and get you into the admit file.

Remember, your essays are a chance to show admissions officials a side of you that is not reflected in other parts of your application. It is a chance to talk about your personal traits, plus the values and experiences that helped shape your life and give you inspiration for the future.

Tell them about the person behind the grades and the test scores.

If you aren’t comfortable talking about yourself, the essay task can be daunting.

There are a number of books on how to write college essays. My favorite is “50 Successful Harvard Applications Essays,” published by the Harvard Crimson. It features writing examples from students who were admitted to Harvard, and provide a helpful analysis at the end of each essay.

In my opinion, you must get excited about the task at hand and finding the sound of your voice. I sometimes suggest that my clients read James D. Watson’s “The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure DNA (Gunther S. Stent edition).”

They usually get the message on the first try. Watson wrote about the momentous discovery with the easy pen of a diarist. He found the trick is to use a conversational tone of voice that puts even the most skeptical reader at ease without insulting their intelligence.

His story is interesting because the discovery was revolutionary and met with skeptics and roadblocks. There is drama at every turn, and a huge dose of humor and self-effacement in his prose.

So, start writing. Use a friendly and unaffected tone of voice. Show members of the admissions committee a side of you that made you what you are — happy, sad, funny or serious.

Be yourself and tell them about it.



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