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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Does a College Application Essay have to be Unique?

It's getting late and I should probably close the laptop, but I thought I'd share a couple observations from reading this evening. Specifically, I'm going to talk about essay topics. Students are always asking for more specific examples of "essays that worked" during my q&a sessions on Instagram. I often hesitate because I don't want to imply that there are right topics and wrong topics. What's more, the essays that usually pop into my head are the unusual ones - the essays that were outrageous or hilarious or even devastatingly sad. Those aren't normal essays, so I don't want students to leave the q&a thinking that they have to brainstorm something shocking to say. 

Keep in mind that what makes an essay good is what the student shares and how they do it, not the topic. This evening, I read a really lovely essay about a ritual that's related to food a student's family makes for a holiday. I've probably read thousands of essays that are food-related (and they make me hungry sometimes!), so this one wasn't unique in its topic, but I found the way it was written, the voice, and the little story that unfolded really...nice. 

Another essay I read this evening was about sneakers. Sneaker collecting and flipping is pretty common these days. I feel somewhat familiar with the sneaker world because of all the essays I've read about that topic. This evening's student talked about planning for their next sneaker purchase and then about how they changed their mind due to some realizations about why they were attracted to fancy (my word, not theirs) sneakers. Instead of being a narrative about procuring sneakers, the student wrote a reflection. It was nicely done.

I haven't laughed this evening. I haven't cried. I've smiled several times. If you are an early applicant who is worrying about essays already written or a Regular Decision applicant feeling a bit intimated by your essays, I hope you can remember that you don't have to write a unique essay to get our attention. Write about something that interests you and let your voice come through.

Essays don't have to be unique to get our attention