I spend a lot of time reassuring my students that part of the thing that makes college essays so challenging is that they’re totally different from the type of writing you do for your academic classes. It’s about your personal experiences, your background, your stories. It’s not about scholarly articles and quotations from novels.
But as I read through my students’ essays, I find myself recalling Prof. Gossett’s words. When a student tells me that they like a particular school’s strong alumni network and believe that that will help them get a job after graduation, I think to myself, “Prove it.” How do you know that this school has a strong alumni network? And what evidence do you have that that network will ultimately be helpful when you graduate and start building your career? It’s one thing to make these declarations, but it’s much more powerful if you can support it with actual evidence.
So even though you’re writing about your personal beliefs and experiences, you still have to support those beliefs with evidence. In the case of college essays, that evidence means sharing anecdotes and stories that illustrate the point you’re trying to make.
It’s not enough to tell a college that you’re fascinated by the intersection of English and history. You have to tell them a story about how you wrote your IB Extended Essay on the ancient tradition of revenge killings and how that plays out in the Old English epic poem Beowulf.
It’s not enough to tell a college that you felt a sense of welcome and community when you visited the campus. You have to tell them about your conversation with Daniel, a poli sci and communications major, who spent 20 minutes talking to you about the process of double majoring and then gave you some recommendations for where to have lunch on campus.
Yes, writing a college essay is very different from writing a research paper for your English class. You get to use first-person pronouns and make the occasional joke. But it’s not enough to just make declarations about who you are and what you care about. You have to prove your point.