September 2011 Newsletter
It’s college admissions season and right now is when rising seniors should be writing their Common App personal statements, activity essays, and all of the supplementary essays required of the colleges to which they’re applying. If students choose to wait until the school year is in full swing, they’re going to have to balance their college essays and applications with their senior year coursework and any remaining standardized testing they may still have to complete.
In this newsletter, we’re going to focus on the Common App personal statement and, through a few vignettes, we’re going to show you some common mistakes that students make to see if you can pinpoint what exactly they did wrong. We often find that students are able to recognize these mistakes when presented them but, nonetheless, they commit them anyway! Awareness of what not to do is helpful but sometimes you also need that critic in your ear identifying when you did something you shouldn’t do and what you could do instead. And your high school English teacher may just not know all of the ins and outs of the highly selective college admissions process. That’s where we at Ivy Coach come in!
So take a look at the following vignettes and see if you can identify what the authors do wrong before you read the analyses:
Vignette: I’ve always had a fascination with science. When I was little, my dad would ask me to name all of the elements of the Periodic Table, a skill that would come in handy during chemistry class. Since my dad taught me so much about science – and chemistry in particular – as a child, I’ve since found that the discipline comes easily to me. I often find myself frustrated in class because other students aren’t able to grasp chemical reactions as easily but I’ve learned to accept this.
Analysis: Most college essays, as a general rule, should not begin with “I.” A powerful statement that pulls you right in can be an exception but “I’ve always had a fascination with science” does not qualify as powerful. But this is the least of the problems in this particular vignette. This college applicant breaks the cardinal rule of college essays by coming across as pompous and unlikable. She in fact claims that chemistry comes easily to her and that other students don’t grasp the material as easily! Oy vey! Even if this student has perfect grades and SATs, this application is more than likely to end up in the deny pile!
Vignette: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” I’ve always loved this Dr. Seuss quote. It personifies so much of what I believe and who I am. Dr. Seuss remains one of my favorite authors today, maybe because his work influences my life on a daily basis.”
Analysis: So often, college applicants begin essays with quotes. At Ivy Coach, we’re generally against this idea (unless of course the essay prompt requires you to begin with a quote). Beginning with a quote reflects a less mature writing style. Think of it like starting an essay with, “According to Webster’s Dictionary, courage is…” You get the idea. It’s lame. College admissions counselors want to hear what you have to say – not what some famous author has to say. But also, this vignette features tons of vague statements that tell but don’t show. The statements are vague, unspecific, and BS. “It personifies so much of what I believe and who I am?” Yuck! Not to mention, Dr. Seuss probably shouldn’t be one of your favorite authors as a teenager. It doesn’t exactly demonstrate your intellectual curiosity.
Vignette: “My grandfather had a rule. We were to read at least ten pages before bed. In many ways, my grandfather inspired my love of reading. My grandfather was born in Poland during the Second World War. He came to this country on a boat with not a penny to his name and, yet, he achieved the American Dream.”
Analysis: So many college essays focus on deceased grandparents. While it’s nice that a student may want to honor or memorialize their relative, the college essay is not the place to do so. Colleges want to learn about the applicant – not about their grandfather. And it’s one of the more cliché college essay subject matters (along with sports, music, spending a week during the summer building houses in Guatemala, and how you worked so hard as editor-in-chief of your high school newspaper) because so many students choose this very topic.
Sometimes, essay mistakes that ruin an application can be even smaller in scope. Sometimes, it can even be a word in the essay that leads to a denial. If that word makes you come across as, say, learning for a grade rather than for your love of learning, then your candidacy will in all likelihood be crippled. To avoid these very kinds of mistakes, contact us today so we can get started!
Common App Personal Statements
Click on Picture of Video