by Stephen W. Edwards and Timothy P. Van Hooser
Some high school students applying to college might view their application essays something like an important speech. Each candidate is given the opportunity to address the admissions officers in turn. Steely eyes lock in on you as you ascend the stage and take your position behind the podium. You have practiced for this moment for years, every high school English class reaching its culmination in this brilliant moment. Yet, when you open your mouth, you are limited to only simple words and phrases. You sound like a third-grade version of yourself: "Let me get into your school. I want to go there. I want to help people. I am a big boy now." The monosyllabic drivel continues for six agonizing minutes until you slump off stage and begin crying uncontrollably when the eyes have disappeared. Except they haven't. They are following you. They are starting to laugh. Hysterically. And you are crying. Hysterically. Agh!
Let us assure you, however, that writing your college application essays is not a giant speech competition that is prejudiced against the less charismatic and witty. Certainly, charisma, wit, and verbal flair will aid you in writing application essays and personal statements, but there is no substitute for your own uniqueness and experiences. It is no coincidence that great writers have always relied on their everyday life experiences in order to craft memorable literature. William Faulkner wrote about his native Mississippi. John Steinbeck often featured characters out of his own migrant farming experiences in the Central Valley of California. Made-up or exaggerated accounts may work in comedy clubs, but they are worthless on college admissions essays.
Your experiences are the inspiration for a solid and descriptive personal statement. Can admissions officers tell from your SAT scores that you love safari photography? Can they guess from your 95 in English 11 that you love to tell the stories of war veterans? Can they surmise that you love to examine rocket flight patterns from your participation on the science bowl team? Can they divine that you learned humility in leadership from your captaincy of the soccer team from your laundry list of activities?
Be encouraged to know that you can write a great application essay. Please read the other sections of this "Essay answers" section to make that possibility a reality.