Believe in What You Say – College Essay Advice from Dr. Osgood

Some people say that public speaking is one of the hardest things to do well.  But if you asked a senior in high school, he might tell you that it is writing the college essays.  Yup, there is almost always more than one essay to write.  I bet your heart skipped a beat hearing that!  But you do have more than one story to tell; in fact, you have dozens crammed inside your head and heart, just begging to pop out and into the hands of a college admissions officer!  Trust me when I tell you that your whole writing career has led to opportunity, if you believe that you have something to say about yourself.  The author, Maya Angelou, says this well: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.” So write!

Get started! Do it! Then engage half a dozen editors- your English teacher, the newly opened Robinson Writing Center, family members, friends. Get feedback.  Be willing to make changes.  Be intuitive about your writing, and take chances.  This is not a show-and-tell essay.  It is a critical snapshot for someone, who in all likelihood wants to accept you, so give them a chance to hear your voice!

Here is a common list of advice that writing coaches suggest for the college essay: The more personal the essay, the more interesting it is.  Some of the best essays are simply told stories, well told.  Vibrant essays will be active, imaginative, and suggestive. Have an engaging and clear introduction, and then close the paper with some sort of link back to the opening. Try to phrase descriptions in fresh ways, and stay clear of clichés. Vary syntax, listen for flow, modify verbs with adverbs (it jazzes up the flow), and don’t obsess review, revise, and redo, unless you are making a significant improvement to the essay.  More than anything be sure that the essay focuses on you.  Sometimes students will spend an inordinate amount of time creating the setting, or describing another person before they get to the point of the essay, which is YOU!

And remember this about writing—every word counts! So choose carefully and craftily.  As Mark Twain said: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” As college admissions becomes increasingly competitive, the essay often becomes the bump up.

No! No! Don’t say you can’t write like that.  Chances are that you have been writing deeply and richly for years. Remember, you are going to college next year!