For everything there is a season. For high school seniors, it’s the season for the dreaded college admission essay.
“Admission deadlines are upon us with some as early as Oct. 15. Now is the time indeed for finishing the most difficult part of the application and the part that takes the longest time,” said Marisol Sardina, associate director of college counseling at Miami Country Day School in Miami Shores.
The essay is much harder than filling in blanks on the college application, Sardina said. After all, grades, awards, extracurricular activities and interests are matters of fact while the narrative essay should reveal the depth and character of the student.
“So, considering that an admission officer reads these narratives 12 hours a day for many months straight, your essay really, really has to stand out,” Sardina said.
In high schools everywhere, college hopefuls are gathering final thoughts, remembering the rules of grammar, exacting words and wracking brains for writing hooks that will capture their reader and snag them a seat in their college of choice.
Maria Sahwell, College Admission Program (CAP) advisor at Miami Beach High School, said a focused, concise and interesting essay can give a student an “extra push” when up against students with similar grades and activity profiles.
“The essay is the student’s voice, it speaks of the passion of the student and it can be the make-it or break-it factor,” Sahwell said.
This year, 488 colleges of the nation’s more than 2,000 colleges and universities are accepting a common application, which requires students to choose one of six different essay topics. For each, the student is asked to describe certain life situations that led them to who they have become in their personal and academic life.
In 250 to 500 words, depending on individual university requirements, the student must paint a portrait of who they are, what they are passionate about, and why the institution would be fortunate to have them.
In all cases, truthful information, proper grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure and creative writing techniques are essential elements for keeping the essay interesting and real.
Alina Grandal, CAP advisor at Hialeah Senior High School, said students should just be themselves.
“Avoid writing to impress with your vocabulary. Write instead as though you are talking to someone. Remember, admissions officers are not English teachers, they just want to get to know you,” Grandal said.
That is, after they see the student’s grades and test scores, said Michele Hernandez, author of A is for Admission and a former Dartmouth College admissions officer.
Hernandez, who now runs Hernandez College Counseling and Application Boot Camp, said a common mistake among high school seniors is the incorrect belief that no matter what their grades, an amazing essay will save the day.
“Without grades and scores, the essay will land in the ‘one read reject pile’ and get only three minutes of our time. Universities are very, very selective,” said Hernandez. “It’s 80 percent academics, 20 percent the rest of stuff.”
Maurizio Boano, 17, a senior at Miami Country Day, has already applied to Georgia Tech with an essay he started during a summer workshop. In recent weeks, he’s tweaked that essay and written completely new essays for applications to other schools, including Duke University.