How to Write an Outstanding Admissions Essay
Contrary to popular belief, writing an outstanding admissions essay, whether an AMCAS essay or a college application essay, has little to do with the topic you choose. I’ve read essays about My Summer Vacation that have bombed – I’ve read essays about My Summer Vacation that have left me with tears of joy. To steal a cliché, it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.
So, you’ve chosen to write your essay about the individual who has influenced you most – the late, great Michael Jackson. Should you start by describing MJ’s childhood and progress through album after album, like a college level rockumentary?
Step 1. When writing an application essay capturing the reader’s initial attention should be first and foremost on your mind.
Engaging a blurry-eyed admissions officer’s interest is a difficult task, but it doesn’t require Shakespearian talents. What it does need, though, is a unique approach. Here’s how a typical introduction might read…
Michael Jackson came into this world from meager beginnings, only to persevere and rise up out of poverty to become the greatest Pop icon of the twentieth century.
This introduction isn’t terrible, but it is terribly boring. This introduction to this essay has put the reader on into a daze and your essay has failed to capture her attention.
Now, here’s an alternative essay introduction:
Dubadub Dah, Dubadub Dah, Dubadub Dah- I couldn’t make out the words, but it didn’t matter, syllables were strung together like Venetian blinds.
After reading that first sentence can you guess the topic of the essay? Don’t have a clue? Well, that is the entire point. An admissions essay doesn’t have to spell things out for the reader. You don’t need a topic sentence or an executive summary like we are taught to do in school for research or term papers. An admissions essay is a different type of animal. Feed the reader something interesting and unique, and you have satisfied the first condition in how to write an admissions essay.
Once you’ve captured the reader’s attention, how do you keep it?
Step 2. When writing an application essay, a reader’s concentration is held by consistent and logical flow.
Consistent flow doesn’t just mean from paragraph to paragraph, it means from idea to idea, from sentence to sentence. Every idea, every word, should not be sitting on its own little island, it should be part of an interconnected stream of words that take the reader on a smooth ride from point A to point B. Often overlooked, transitions are the easiest and most effective way to give your application essay that even feel. Here’s an illustrative example of poor flow:
The songwriter showed his contempt for the audience with a shake of his white glove. Michael began to sing the first few notes his final song- Dangerous. His star quality was cemented.
Notice that these are three separate ideas. They are not tied to one another, and as a result, the paragraph does not flow, and the reader loses interest.
Here’s an example of consistent and logical flow:
The songwriter showed his contempt for the audience with a shake of his white glove. Despite his irritation, Michael began to sing the first few notes of his final song- Dangerous. It was this ferocious conclusion that cemented his status as King of Pop.
Although the three sentences are still distinct ideas, transitional devices hold them together. Now, readability is increased, improving the likelihood that an admissions officer would continue further to your finale.
Once your reader finally approaches the end of their literary journey, just one task remains – you must craft a “Lasting Impression” Conclusion. For what good is your essay if nobody remembers it?