Five College Essay Myths & Facts

By Kim Lifton

Juniors, by now you should be thinking about college, and you might seriously consider doing a bit of research to find out which schools interest you. It is also a great time to reflect on what matters to you and to learn about the college application essay. Will it help you? Can it hurt you?

“The college essay is value-added,” Jim Cotter, Director of Admissions for Michigan State University, said during Wow Writing Workshop’s March 6 webinar: Get Ready! Get Set! Get In! Inside the Admissions Office.

Cotter said a good personal statement can help a student on the borderline at a moderately selective school like MSU. At a highly selective school, a poor admissions essay can make the difference between being admitted or not, he added.

With that in mind, consider this important question before you begin the application essay writing process: What do you want your college of choice to know about you that they can’t find out from your transcript, test scores and list of extracurricular activities?

There is a lot of misinformation out there that will take you off track. Consider these college essay myths and facts before you get started.

Myth 1: An essay has to be written about an impressive topic.

Fact: You are the impressive topic. A college application essay is your opportunity to share something meaningful about yourself. The story, not the experience, is most important. Colleges want to know what you learned, not what you did.

One student came to us confident that a trip to help the poor in Central America would capture someone’s attention inside the admissions office. A Wow writing coach encouraged her to talk about what she learned about herself. Turns out, her most important moment occurred when she was hanging out with friends during the trip. She overcame her fear of heights by jumping off a cliff into the water. That experience would have been meaningful whether it had happened during a service trip in Costa Rica or on a family vacation.

“What does it mean to you?” asked Calvin Wise, associate director for undergraduate admissions, Johns Hopkins University. “That is what we want to know.

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