Undergraduate Studies

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College essay

Definition:

"A college essay is used to give additional information to an admissions board who are considering your application. You will have completed an application form and given your basic details but a college essay gives an extra insight into you as a person and helps the college evaluate your suitability both for the course and the college."

What should I write about in a college essay?

Basically, you write about yourself (without repeating what you have stated on the application form). This is not as easy as it might sound because most of us are 'programmed' from an early age to be modest about our achievements but the college essay requires you to do the exact opposite. You must be able sell yourself in a college essay - after all you are competing against other students who may be as well qualified as you are for a coveted place. The college does not know you so the college essay is an opportunity for you to convince the college that you have the edge over the others.

How should I prepare for writing a college essay?

The first thing to do is to write down anything at all that you have achieved in any field. You may think that you have nothing to say but you'll be surprised once you start how much you have done over the years.

List all your activities, both scholarly and extra-curricular. This would include sports, music, drama, debating societies, chess clubs, anything in fact where you have played a part and which demonstrates the range of your abilities. Remember, you are not just the sum of your academic achievements, you are a complete, well-rounded individual who will be an asset to the college and the college essay helps you to demonstrate that.

Just to give you one example, if you have played sport at school, been part of the team, maybe even captained the team, this shows the college that you can work well with others, take responsibility and give your free time to the mutual advantage of yourself and others; additionally, you will be showing that the college could reasonably expect you to want to put something back into it as well as taking from it.

Don't be shy about including ventures in which you think you played a relatively small part e.g. the backstage work on a drama production is just as important as the starring role and the college is looking for your willingness to learn, contribute and co-operate.

How should I organize my notes for a college essay?

Take a long, hard look at the notes you have made, do you see any natural links or patterns emerging? Try to organize the ideas so that your completed college essay flows well and gives evidence of your ability to write well.

The structure should be formal but personal, well written with perfect spelling, grammar and punctuation. Few things make a worse impression than misspelled words, grammatical errors and careless mistakes so proof-read your college essay when it is complete or get someone to do this for you, maybe even read it aloud, a second pair of eyes will often spot mistakes more readily than you would as we tend to read what we expect to see.

Remember that a college essay is an opportunity, not a task. It's a lot easier than an interview because it allows you to make notes, write and revise so that the finished college essay says exactly what you want it to say and hopefully gives you the advantage in impressing the college.

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