Recently my twenty-year-old son applied to a certain summer program and needed to respond to the following question: “What character traits do you possess that will allow you to excel as a leader in this program?” My son does not like talking (or writing) about himself and was not too happy with his first draft. He asked me to review the essays.
I discovered a classic (and boring) resume in prose. “First I did this and then I did that.” There was not a character trait mentioned or demonstrated in the whole essay. He had failed to answer the question. And he had a lot of material that he could have used too.
I was shocked that my own offspring had so blown this essay! I asked him if there is any reference in the essay to a character trait. He sheepishly admitted that there was none and acknowledged that he had failed to answer the question. We discussed examples of particular traits that he could use and a structure for the essay.
He rewrote it from scratch, and this time he did manage to answer the question, but the essay was disjointed. No clearly stated theme to guide the reader. No transitions between paragraphs. So we worked on clarifying the theme and incorporating transitions to develop a coherent essay that actually discussed the topic at hand.
Frequently when reviewing application essays and personal statements, I read the essay first and then the question. If I can answer the question based on the essay I just read, it passes the first check: it answers the question. Once convinced that the essay performs its primary task, the client and I work to ensure that it does so well and consequently succeeds in demonstrating communications skills, a secondary duty of admissions essays.
Whether applying to college, business, law, medical or graduate school, perform the following check before you submit your essays to an admissions committee reader.
- Make sure your essay answers the question.
- Make sure it answers the question as well as you can.
- Make sure it is a coherent, articulate demonstration of your writing ability.
If you would like a practiced, but friendly, critical eye to help you, please consider Accepted’s admissions consulting and editing services.
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