“The student’s voice is the one that has to clearly come across in that piece.” Youn can still recall in detail certain essays that crossed her desk more than a decade ago when she was an admissions officer at Barnard College in Manhattan and Whittier College in California.“There are times when I would read a student essay and really fall in love with them and want to advocate for them in committee,” she said.
“It can be something that makes the student stand out.”She recalled one essay a student wrote about trying to start an old junky car that she’d received from her grandfather.
She described the steps she took to try to find and fix the source of the problem while weaving in details about herself.
The engaging, well-written essay showed the student’s tenacity in handling a problem, Youn said.“A great essay has the combination of two main points: storytelling and an experience where the student is trying to put the reader in their shoes,” she said.
He wrote that he didn’t realize how much joy he could receive by helping someone else. Shames recalled one unforgettable essay in which a student, asked to write a page from his future autobiography, wrote about fishing with his future child —as he had with his own father and grandfather.“It was beautifully written,” Shames said. Here’s a kid who has compassion and respect for his father and wants to create a legacy for this child.
That probably floats over to how the student acts in business and life.”Experts caution that while a great essay can be a “tipping point” to get a student noticed in a field of qualified applicants, an essay alone won’t be enough to get into college.But they should not attempt to change the student's voice.“Admissions officers can spot from a mile away if your parent wrote that essay,” said Mary Sue Youn, a Ridgewood-based college admissions consultant for the company College Coach.When writing your supplemental essays, you’re bound to come across some version of the question “Why us?” Out of the thousands of schools in the world, you chose to apply here; now, the admissions team wants to know what made you chose them.What’s one way to stand out in a crowd of qualified students?Experts say well-crafted application essays can get an admissions officer to take notice and propel an applicant to the top of the heap.But the essay does not have to center around a major event.“It can be small moments told in an interesting or novel way — something that tells about their character,” said Deborah Shames, a college counselor in Upper Saddle River.“Sometimes the smallest moments make the best essays.”Experts advise students to steer clear of overused themes, like winning a big game with seconds on the clock.Whether it’s about a life-changing event or a moment as simple as fishing, a compelling essay can reflect a student’s voice and mindset, or provide a glimpse into his or her life that a transcript alone may not convey.“This is really where they can shine,” said Kelly Peterfriend, supervisor of counseling with the Northern Highland Regional High School district.“This is a chance for the student to speak to who they are and what they believe and what they’re passionate about.”With most early action and early decision college applications due Nov. 15, it’s crunch time for students who should be drafting their essays.