College Essay Guides

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Throughout 2020, I produced essay-writing guides for CollegeVine, an educational website that helps high schoolers with college applications. Below is a compilation of the pieces, along with choice excerpts. Click through to view the full articles on CollegeVine.com.

Focusing on a personal quest will help your awards and achievements seem authentic, rather than just bragging. So ask yourself – what’s my personal flaw, my personal battle? How can I involve my achievements or biography in ways that reflect this ongoing struggle? 

[UChicago prompts] often sound trivial, and an essay about them risks falling into triviality as well. You can avoid this hidden trap by finding a “so what?” to your analysis. What lesson can we learn from your approach? ... Don’t let your sense of fun and frolic drown out your serious intellectual ideas.

Prioritize your beginning. What’s vital in such a short span is that you don’t waste any time getting to the thrill. You needn't start with explanations, like “it was the summer before junior year”... Instead, cut straight to some sort of action, and plunge your reader into an engaging first-person perspective. Here are some ideas to get started....

On the surface, [Barnard] asks you for a lot of “what” you think. What woman, what topic, what questions, etc. But Barnard is really interested in how you think. You should spend some serious time brainstorming your reasoning ... State your priorities as a researcher and thinker.

Remember: it’s easier for them to admit someone with a detailed plan than someone with a fuzzy outline. If you’ve already done the work visualizing and planning your time on campus, that’s less mental work for admissions, and a faster track to a “yes.”

Creating your lists is going to be a delicate game. You have to find the happy medium between intellectual and casual, specialized and well-rounded, fiction and nonfiction, differing types of media, and so on. Don’t throw together these lists last-minute just because they’re not full-blown essays. 

Identify an area in which you want to evolve, grow, and improve. Ideally, think about a certain foible that challenges you and keeps you from fulfilling your potential — maybe it’s a fear of public speaking...Why do you feel you need to change, and what communities at UPenn could push you out of your comfort zone? For example, I could plot out my essay like this...

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© 2020, Maya St. Clair