It’s just a few days before the November 30 deadline for Fall 2013 admissions applications to the University of California. UC requires two essays, totaling not more than 1000 words, to complete the application.
Here are a few tips:
1. Personalize your essay. If you are writing about a Boy Scout expedition, make sure that your essay would look different from anyone else who attended the same trip. A short story or vignette will illustrate a point best. Tell the story from your own perspective and avoid using quotes from coaches, teachers, or writers you admire.
2. Avoid writing a list of your accomplishments. There is plenty of room on the application for a resume of your activities. Focus on one experience and write in detail.
3. Use natural language. This isn’t an exercise in creative writing. Read the essay out loud (dogs are especially good listeners) and if you stumble over any phrases, your reader will also. Write as if you are writing for a friend.
4. Remember that the purpose of the essay is to get to know you and to see how you can contribute to the university community. I like to remind students: this is not an application for psychotherapy! You may write about difficult circumstances you have overcome, barriers in your life, even tragedies, but try to end your essay showing the strength you have gained, what you have learned, and how you will be successful in college.
5. Check your spelling! While this may seem obvious, the informal text language that many students use isn’t appropriate for a college essay.
6. Be sure you answer the question. When the question asks how your community has shaped you, be sure you fully answer that question. The question is not requiring you to know what you want to study, or what career your want– your dreams and aspirations can be related to exploration of a new field, to how you want to live your life, to what you feel you can contribute to society. When responding to prompt #2 “how does this relate to the person you are” – be sure you circle back to how your experiences, talents, or accomplishments help define you.
7. Be mindful that your reader will be reading hundreds, if not thousands, of essays. Make sure your point is clear and stated within the first three sentences of your essay. While your English teacher might like to see a more subtle approach to the topic, clarity is essential in college essays.
8. Ask someone who does not know you well to read your essays. Feedback from parents and teachers, while helpful, will be different than from someone who does not know the context of your essay. Consider input carefully. There are many ways to approach essay writing. Incorporate comments that make sense to you.
9. Give yourself plenty of time to write, revise, consider, and revise again. If you are also applying to colleges using the Common Application, you can use one of your UC essays for “topic of your choice.”
9. Remember that any essay that is honest and authentic will be interesting to the reader. Avoid cliches, using words you yourself don’t understand, or writing to “impress.”
10. Don’t submit your application at the last minute. In the past, the UC system has crashed from tens of thousands of students trying to submit at once. Submit your application a few days before the deadline.