The College Application Essay Review

You’ll see that the best authors ignore these fussy, fusty rules.

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WORD PACKAGES Some phrases — free gift, personal beliefs, final outcome, very unique — come in a package we don’t bother to unpack. RULES TO IGNORE In English class, you may have to follow a list of rules your teacher says are necessary for good grammar: Don’t use contractions. And don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction like “and” or “but” or “because.” Pick up a good book.They would go into the garage and talk, really talk: “Once my mom said to me in a thick Korean accent, ‘Every time you have sex, I want you to make sure and use a condo.’ I instantly burst into laughter and said, ‘Mom, that could get kind of expensive! And remember those exhausted admissions officers sitting around a table in the winter.’ ” A girl wrote about her feminist mother’s decision to get breast implants. Jolt them out of their sugar coma and give them something to be excited about.Bigger than me.”LEAVE WEBSTER’S OUT OF IT Unless you’re using a word like “prink” (primp) or “demotic” (popular) or “couloir” (deep gorge), you can assume your reader knows the definition of the words you’ve written. .”THE EPIGRAPH Many essays start with a quote from another writer.You’re better off not starting your essay with “According to Webster’s Dictionary . When you have a limited amount of space, you don’t want to give precious real estate to someone else’s words. When writing about past events, the present tense doesn’t allow for reflection. This happens, then this happens, then this happens.For the counselor, his answer raised ethical and practical issues.On ethics, she asked herself (and colleagues in a series of emails) whether it was proper for her to let the student submit the essay as his own work.A car, kimchi, Mom’s upsizing — the writers used these objects as vehicles to get at what they had come to say. REPEATING THE PROMPT Admissions officers know what’s on their applications.They allowed the writer to explore the real subject: This is who I am. Instead, look at times you’ve struggled or, even better, failed. Don’t begin, “A time that I failed was when I tried to beat up my little brother and I realized he was bigger than me.” You can start right in: “As I pulled my arm back to throw a punch, it struck me: My brother had gotten big.The college counselor couldn't help but be impressed with the draft application essay.It had a solid theme and related to the student's academic interests. But the counselor, who described the situation on condition of anonymity, said that she just didn't think her student could possibly have written it.

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