The promising but undisciplined rookie is a trope that comes up in a lot of Top Chef seasons. And a lot of premium cable legal dramas. It’s also the plot of basically all the Karate Kid movies. And it’s something I frequently think about when my students start writing their supplemental essays.
One of the most common college essay prompts is “Why do you want to go to this university?” There are a lot of reasons why colleges ask this question, but, fundamentally, they want to know that you’ve given this question some thought and that you’re genuinely interested in their school.
Most of the students I work with really struggle to answer this question successfully, even for a school that they’re sincerely enthusiastic about. The most common mistake I see are essays that spend too much time talking about the school and all its wonderful qualities, and not enough time talking about yourself and why those wonderful qualities are important to you. The other mistake I see is the laundry list.
Just like Joe Sasto and his “bag of techniques,” a lot of students think they need to throw everything they can think of into their essay, as though the sheer volume of details will serve as proof of how much they want to go to this school. But the problem with the laundry list is that you can’t really do justice to that many examples in a 300 or 500 or even 800-word essay. And the quantity starts to work against you, with each “And also…” diminishing the impact of your enthusiasm.
What works better – for Joe Sasto and the Why College? essay – is to edit. Dip into your bag of techniques and choose two or three that you can skillfully execute. Think about all the things you love about a college and choose two or three that you can thoughtfully articulate, explaining both what you like about a school, and more importantly, why you like those things. Take note from Coco Chanel, who said it best: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” So before you outline your essay - or conceive your Quickfire-winning dish - look at your laundry list and choose the best ones.