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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Throwing Away the Formula

People cringe when formulas come up in conversations about the college admission process. The idea that there is some rubric into which we plug ratings to get an admission decision makes a lot of people uncomfortable, regardless of whether they're an admission officer, school counselor, student, or parent.

At UVa, we don't use formulas at all. We aren't assigning scores to or rating each component of your application. We aren't plugging data into a form that tells us what to do with an application. Our review is holistic.

However, in many files, there's a formula that has a huge influence on us. It's the formula most students use to write essays.

Many people, myself included, are taught to write essays using a five-paragraph format. It's called different things in different schools. When I was in school, we called it the Three-Five Essay. I've also heard it called One-Three-One. You might have been told a different name for it, but the structure is the same. The teaching is that essays consist of an introduction, three supporting sections, and a conclusion. These essays are great for school assignments and they are perfect for the SAT and ACT folks, who expect you to write an essay in 30 minutes. However, the five-paragraph formula can be horrible for college application essays.

Inserting your thoughts into a preconceived format can strip the best part of the essay away (the personality!). Start with the idea or the story. Free write with that idea in mind and then go back and organize your thoughts so the structure makes sense.