How to approach essays

There are typically 5 different types of essays:

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experience failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you were perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Essay’s should be:

  • Fun
  • Free form writing
  • Journal entry
  • Narrative

Brainstorming for your essay

  • Read the essay prompt and understand what it is really asking for. Focus on key words such as contribution, challenge, diversity or accomplishment
  • Write down what comes into your head, don’t second guess yourself and don’t censor
  • If you get stuck, take a break and return later in the day or even the next day
  • Revisit your ideas and something will probably jump out at you and say this is going to be my essay topic
  • Find a thinking partner to “bounce” ideas off of.
  • Outlining
  • Develop a great and catchy opening statement

Eleven essay mistakes to avoid

  1. Don’t be offensive. Hey, we get that it’s hip to be edgy. We’re with it. But watch that you don’t overstep the bounds of good taste in your essay when ruminating on faith, race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or politics.
  2. Avoid controversial political topics. You’re in the Tea Party. The admissions officer is a communist. Step back, everyone, this could get ugly.
  3. Don’t be negative. It’s not okay to talk about your dead dog in your college essay, unless Fido’s death spurred you into caring about the plight of homeless animals so much that you felt compelled to start your city’s first animal shelter.
  4. Beware the overshare. There are some things that the admissions office does not need, or want, to know.
  5. Don’t disparage the school you’re applying to. You’re trying to get in, right?
  6. Don’t be “too creative. ”The admissions office at Vanderbilt is looking for a solid, real, interesting piece of prose, not a Shakespearean sonnet.
  7. Don’t be arrogant. Highlight your strengths in your essay, but not at the expense of others.
  8. Answer the essay prompt. We’ve discussed this before, but it’s another one of those things we can’t say often enough, rather like “Brush your teeth twice a day” and “Milk belongs in the fridge, not on the counter.”
  9. Don’t write too little. There’s a word limit attached to your essay, which means that the admissions office thinks you’ll have at least that much to say about their prompt.
  10. Remember what your English teacher taught you. Check for spelling and grammar errors, write in paragraph form, and don’t use profanity.
  11. Don’t spell the name of the college incorrectly.