What to put in your 500 Word College Application Essay
Sep05

What to put in your 500 Word College Application Essay

A guest post by Ed Weathers Your 500 Word College Application Essay should be about the real YOU. These days, most colleges require that your application essay be no more than 500 words. In that essay, colleges expect you to reveal your writing ability and, just as important, the real You, with a capital Y. Who are You? What makes You tick? What are Your hopes, expectations, fears, joys, tastes, desires, foibles, sins, and virtues? That’s a lot to expect of a 500 word college application essay. Of course, you can’t say everything about yourself in 500 words. Forget that list two sentences ago; you can’t fit all that in 500 words. You must narrow the focus of your essay. So what do you write? Some experts suggest that you start your 500 word college application essay with a brief personal story and then draw a “moral” from it that expresses your values. There’s nothing wrong with that advice, but if I were a college admissions officer, I’d be sick by now of essays that begin with a touching little tale about a wise grandfather, a handicapped sibling, or a South American orphan the applicant met on a summer good-works trip. I’d prefer hearing about why you still drink only chocolate milk at the age of 17, or how Bonnie Sue McKay broke your heart at the age of twelve (and how you got over it by learning to quilt), or why table tennis is your favorite sport, or how you, with your tin ear, wept the first time you heard Schumann’s Piano Concerto. If I’m your college admissions officer, forget “touching.” Give me honest and accurate, instead. Give me “tough” before “touching.” Give me clear observations — in your own words, please, not stock phrases. Give me concrete images: a chocolate milk stain on a white hospital gown, a quilting needle stuck in your index finger, a cracked ping-pong ball behind the basement furnace, a scratchy old recording coming out of a friend’s iPod. Give me wit, if you’ve got it, but don’t strain for something that doesn’t come naturally. Give me honest feeling, not prepackaged, Hallmark-card, tell-’em-what-they-want-to hear mush. If you now hate quilting and prefer rugby to table tennis, fine, write that. If I’m your college admissions officer, think hard about chocolate milk or Bonnie Sue or table tennis or Schumann, and answer me this question, as accurately and honestly as you can: Why is this important to you? If you think you know the answer to that question before you start writing, then you don’t know what writing is. Writing — through thinking and brainstorming and free-writing and revising and revising—is a way of searching for the answers to such a question and then writing down those answers as accurately as you can....

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Three Books to Take to College
Jun26

Three Books to Take to College

When my granddaughters go off to college, I am going to recommend that they bring three books with them: Roget’s International Thesaurus, a good dictionary, and The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. These three books—in actual physical paper, please—will give you paper-writing tools you cannot get from a computer or anywhere else.     Roget’s International Thesaurus—It is important that you get this version of the thesaurus because it provides much more than simple lists of synonyms. It also provides entirely different ways of saying the same thing. Let’s say you want a synonym for “friendly.” You go to the back of this thesaurus and find the word “friendly.” That then sends you into the middle of the thesaurus. There you will find, not just adjectives that are synonyms for “friendly” like “sociable” and “companionable” but whole different ways of suggesting friendliness: verbs like “fraternize” and “keep company with” as well as adverbs like “gregariously” and “affably” and even nouns like “party” and “festivity.” And right next door, you’ll find antonyms (opposites) like “aloof” and “cold.”Yes, this kind of thesaurus requires two steps to find what you’re looking for, but it gives ten times the possibilities. For more about Roget, who was an interesting man, see this link: http://www.edweathers.blogspot.com/2011/04/paean-accolade-tribute-and-encomium-to.html . (Note: Do not count heavily on your computer’s thesaurus, which is puny, or a “dictionary” thesaurus which just lists one kind of synonym. Get the two-step Roget’s International Thesaurus described above and learn to use it.) (Second note: Never use the thesaurus to find a “fancier” word. Use it, instead, to find the right word—which is usually not fancy at all.) A good dictionary—I personally prefer the American Heritage Dictionary, College Edition because, in addition to clear definitions, it gives extensive usage tips about tricky words. For example, it will tell you whether its panel of experts considers it correct to say “It looks like I will pass calculus” or if you should say “It looks as if I will pass calculus.” (Most on the panel prefer the latter.) The Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary is also excellent—easy to use, with some (less extensive) usage tips. Use the dictionary not just to check spellings (as you know, your computer’s spell-check won’t tell you if you’ve written “hoppy” but mean “happy”). Also use it to make sure the word you’re using really means what you think it does. For example, just the other day I discovered that I had been misusing the word “adulation” all my life. I thought it meant “love” or “adoration,” but it really means “excessive praise.” Good writers often look up words they...

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