The SATs have been taken, the grades are in the bag, and the teachers have been sufficiently badgered for recommendations. Now comes the fun part. It's time to write a college essay that makes you stand out from your fellow applicants.
It needn't be a painful experience.
Mary Jane Pacifico, chairwoman of the English department at Norwalk High School in Norwalk, Conn., advises students to shun topics that may be downers; avoid singling out one element of their life because numerous factors always come into play; and above all else avoid the three Ds: death, drugs, divorce.
"Colleges don't want to hear about how these things have changed them; they're looking for the students to establish themselves," she says.
In addition to being proofread, a good essay will offer new information about the writer. Don't write about your achievements; those are on the transcript.
Once you start writing, back away from the style traditionally used for classroom papers. "Use the reflective voice. If they keep a journal three times a week, it can help them find their voice, because that gives them the chance to do something a little more creative," she says.
Jan Rooker, an educational consultant from New Canaan, Conn., says the temptation is to write as if you were a committee, just spouting facts. "It's really important to tell something like a story, with a grabber in the beginning," she says. "The qualities about you come through because of the kind of the story that you tell and the details that you pick to tell the story."
According to Pacifico, excess modesty can also prove to be an obstacle to a great paper, because students sell themselves short.
"I tell students that we have a Puritan heritage ... we're afraid to tell how good we are. We don't want to be extravagant in praise of ourselves, because that's considered conceited," she says.
"The kids often have no problem coming up with five or six of their traits that they didn't like, and only one or two that they liked."
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