6. Will my topic keep the reader’s interest from the first word? The entire essay must be interesting, considering admissions officers will probably spend only a few minutes reading each essay.
Admissions Officer Says: “If the first paragraph doesn’t fix my attention, like anyone I’m prone to skimming.”
7. Is my topic unique? Some students are so concerned about making the correct impression that they edit out anything that would help their essay stand out. They submit a “safe” essay that is, in reality, sterile, monotonous, and deadly boring. Most topics are in fact overdone, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, but a unique and convincing answer to a classic topic can pay off big. Furthermore, when applying to a competitive program that might be out of your reach, taking a risk in the essay may help your chances by standing out.
Admissions Officer Says: “Applicants should not be afraid to go out on a limb and be themselves-even when that means incorporating humor or being a little bit controversial.”
8. Am I being myself? Admissions officers want to learn about you and your writing ability. You must develop your own voice and tell YOUR story, not the story you think the reader wants to hear. Write about something meaningful and describe what you did and felt, and your essay will be unique. Many people travel to foreign countries or win competitions, but your feelings during these events are unique to you. Unless a philosophy or societal problem has interested you intensely for years, stay away from grand themes that you have little personal experience with.
Admissions Officer Says: “It is through the essay that the admissions officers reading the application will feel that they have truly gotten to know you.”
9. Does my topic avoid hot-button issues that may offend the reader? If you write on how everyone should worship your God, how wrong or right abortion is, or how you think the Republican Party is evil, you will not get into the college of your choice. The only thing worse than not writing a memorable essay is writing an essay that will be remembered negatively. Stay away from specific religions, political doctrines, or controversial opinions. You can still write an essay about Nietzsche’s influence on your life, but express understanding that not all intelligent people will agree with Nietzsche’s claims. Emphasize instead Nietzsche’s influence on YOUR life, and not why you think he was wrong or right in his beliefs.
Admissions Officer Says: “It is dangerous for a non-professional (especially a high school student) to attempt writing as though the essay will be presented at a professional conference. You may be writing to someone who knows much more than you and will be irritated by your hackneyed proclamations.”
10. Is my essay honest? Unless you are a truly excellent writer, your best, most passionate writing will be about events that actually occurred. While you might be tempted to invent hardship, it is completely unnecessary. Write an essay about your life that demonstrates your personality.
Admissions Officer Says: “After 15 years of reading hundreds of essays a year, you develop an amazing ability to see straight through the bull.”
11. Will an admissions officer remember my topic after a day of reading hundreds of essays? What will the officer remember about your topic? What will the officer remember about you? What will your lasting impression be?
12. If you are writing about something unfortunate that has happened to you, ask: Am I able to highlight my impressive qualities under difficult circumstances without sounding pathetic? Unless you only use the experience as a lens with which to magnify your own personal characteristics, you will not write a good essay. Graduate and professional school applicants should generally steer clear of this topic altogether unless the experience can arguably help one become a better businessman, doctor, lawyer, or scholar.
13. Does my essay fit in well with the rest of my application? Does it explain the unexplained and steer clear of what is already obvious? For example, if you have a 4.0 GPA and a 1500 SAT, no one doubts your ability to do the academic work; addressing this topic would be ridiculous. However, if you have an 850 SAT and a 3.9 GPA or a 1450 SAT and a 2.5 GPA, you would be wise to incorporate into your essay an explanation for the apparent contradiction. For example, perhaps you were hospitalized or family concerns prevented your dedication to academics; you would want to mention this in your essay. However, do not make your essay one giant excuse. Simply give a quick, convincing explanation within the framework of your larger essay.
14. Does my topic avoid mentioning my weaknesses? You want to make a positive first impression, and telling an admissions officer anything about drinking, drugs, or partying undermines your goal. EssayEdge editors have read more essays on ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) than we would hope. Why admit to weakness when you can instead showcase your strengths?
15. If you think you can add diversity to the school to which you are applying, ask: Does my essay specifically demonstrate how my uniqueness will contribute to the realm of campus opinion, the academic environment, or the social life? Every college, professional school, or graduate school wants to increase diversity. For this reason, so many applicants are tempted to declare what makes them different. However, simply saying that you are a black, lesbian female will not impress admissions officers in the least. While an essay incorporating this information would probably be your best topic idea, you must subtly handle the issue by addressing your own personal qualities and how you overcame stigma or dealt with social ostracism. If you are a rich student from Beverly Hills whose father is an engineer and whose mother is a lawyer, but you happen to be a minority, an essay about how you dealt with adversity would be unwise.
Once you have used this checklist for each of the five to seven topics you came up with in Lesson One, narrow the list down to the three topics that most easily pass all of the suggestions above.
a. If more than three topics pass the test above, then simply choose the three that you are most excited about.
b. If fewer than three topics pass the test, go back to your long list in Lesson One and run a few more potential topics through our checklist.
At this point, you might have a topic so inspiring that the essay writes itself. However, even seemingly boring topics can be made into exceptional admissions essays with an innovative approach. In writing the essay you must bear in mind your two goals: to persuade the admissions officer that you are extremely worthy of admission and to make the admissions officer aware that you are more than a GPA and a standardized score, that you are a real-life, intriguing personality.
Unfortunately, there is no surefire step-by-step method to writing a good essay. EssayEdge editors will recast your essay into a beautifully sculpted masterpiece, but every topic requires a different treatment since no two essays are alike. Lessons 3 to 6 will guide you through the various stages of writing a first-rate essay.
Veritas Admissions Consulting – Veritas features former admissions officers at top 10 business schools to help you prepare your application and essays.