There is as much need for passion and voice in an essay as in any other kind of writing.  If you only teach students the mechanics of the essay, you’ll be doing them a disservice, as you will see from these quotations from College Admissions Officers taken from the book:  ESSAYS THAT WORKED: 50 ESSAYS FROM SUCCESSFUL APPLICATIONS TO THE NATION’S TOP COLLEGES, by Boykin Curry & Brian Kasbar.

“I wish students would realize that when they write they should have something to say. They should try to present their values and priorities by writing on a subject that really means something to them, because, other than the essay, all I have is a bunch of test scores and activities: 10,000 sets of numbers and facts. I’d like to be able to see beyond that. I want to see what makes someone tick.

“…being off-beat and daring is usually a plus, as long as the student stays in control of his writing. The essays which are most effective seize a topic with confidence and imagination. Too many applicants treat their essay like a minefield. They walk around on tip-toes, avoiding anything controversial. Of course, the essay comes out two-dimensional, flat, and boring. I wish kids would just relax and try not to guess what the admissions committee is looking for. As soon as they start playing that game, they’re going to lose. The essay won’t be from the heart, and it won’t work.

“I urge students to write as they would in a diary or a letter to a friend. When you write a letter, you may ramble, but when you’re finished your letter sounds like something you would really say.”

“What really irritates me in an essay is when a student doesn’t put his personality into it…I enjoy essays where the author realizes that he’s writing for an audience of real human beings. I also like essays with a touch of excitement and enthusiasm, and I like an applicant who demonstrates the ability to look at himself from the outside. And, of course, wit never hurts.”

“What works best? Honesty, brevity, risk-taking, self-revelation, imaginativeness, and fine writing. If a student read his application before mailing it and can say ‘this sounds like me,’ then he’s probably written the best essay possible.”

“If you write about your activities, the key is to personalize and analyze. Why do you like to wind surf? What does basketball do for you?”

Some actual college admission essay prompts:

Write a brief essay that in some way describes who you are.

Which adjective would describe you by those who know you best?

If you could have dinner with one famous person, who would that be and why?

Tell about an experience that helped you to change and grow.

Evaluate a significant experience or achievement that has had special meaning to you.

Discuss some issue of personal, local, or national concern and its importance to you.

Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on your and describe that influence.

See also:  Persuasive essays


From the Writing Curriculum Files of Children’s Author, Suzanne Williams