WHEN YOU WRITE YOUR ESSAY . . .
lean! A cardinal rule, promulgated by former Cornell University
professor William Strunk, Jr., is for the writer to omit needless
words. Strunk, with noted author E. B. White, wrote The Elements
of Style, a concise and practical "carry along" handbook
on the art of writing. The two gentlemen maintain that
"vigorous writing is concise." "A sentence should
contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences for
the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a
machine no unnecessary parts." Each time you use the passive
voice, you add words to a sentence. "Bob struck Bill" is
65 percent leaner than " Bob was struck by Bill."
early. Leave plenty of time to revise, reword, and rewrite.
You can improve on your presentation.
Do read the
directions carefully. You will want to answer the question as
directly as possible, you will want to follow word limits
exactly. Express yourself as briefly and as clearly as you can.
Do tell the
truth about yourself. The admission committee is anonymous to you;
you are completely unknown to it. Even if you run into a committee
member in the future, he will have no way of connecting your essay (out
of the thousands he has read) to you.
Do focus on
an aspect of yourself that will show your best side. You might
have overcome some adversity, worked through a difficult project, or
profited from a specific incident. A narrow focus is more
interesting than are broad-based generalizations.
using the three Common Application Form topics as early practice
possibilities: (1) evaluate a significant experience or
achievement that has special meaning to you; (2) discuss some issue of
personal, local, or national concern and its importance to you; (3)
indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and
describe that influence.
comfortable in expressing anxieties. Everybody has them, and it's
good to know that an applicant can see them and face them.
positively. Negatives tend to turn people off.
about your greatest assets and achievements. You should be
proud of them!
But . . .
repeat information given elsewhere on your application. The
committee has already seen it - and it looks as though you have nothing
better to say.
on general, impersonal topics - like the nuclear arms race or the
importance of good management to business. The college wants to
know about you.
sacrifice the essay to excuse your shortcomings unless you intend it to
be a natural and integral part of your topic. If it is a question
of underachievement, you should find a spot somewhere else in the
application (or use a separate sheet of paper) to explain why you had
not been working to your ability.
Don't use clichés.
Don't go to
extremes: too witty, too opinionated, or too
Remember . .
The personal statement is
yours. If it looks like Madison Avenue, the admission
committee will probably assume that it is your mother's or father's or
essay rarely goes anywhere. The committee is amused, but
unimpressed with your candidacy.
Write a serious essay,
from the bottom of your heart, in the most mature manner possible.