My biggest college application essay tip is to write something that might make grandma gasp. (College Admission Essay Tip: Make Grandma Gasp, Not Blush!) But, what does a great college application essay look like? Johns Hopkins University actually posts their favorite essays each year. Look at them to help you guide your child through the college admission procedure.
Of course, each essay is completely different. An essay should be a unique self-portrait, so it can't be borrowed from others. They show something unique about the student - something that simply can't be learned from transcripts, course descriptions, and lists of activities. These are self-reflective essays about a moment in time. Johns Hopkins explains, "These entries are distinct and unique to the individual writer; however, each of them assisted the admissions reader in learning more about the student beyond the transcripts and lists of activities."
Take a moment to see what colleges really want. Look at the first sentences for each one. Can you hear grandma gasp?
Breaking Into Cars by Stephen
"I had never broken into a car before." In the beginning of this essay, Grandma's definitely thinking her sweet grandson is a thief. Yes, she gasped. And no, you don't get into the "essays that worked" category if you actually DO steal cars.
How to Become an Adult by Michaela.
She talks about being a parent to Stanley, and you are a few sentences into the essay before you figure out that Stanley is a plant. She's not an unwed mother after all.
Building a Twenty Story Apartment Building by Kyle
The essay begins with a discussion of his job in construction, but gives a great example of how to include school-specific personalization in his second paragraph. "Hopkins’ professors are change agents whose research connects structural engineering challenges to economic and environmental considerations. I am fascinated by Professor James Guest’s work in..."
Returning to Peru by Anna
This wonderful essay does a great job of demonstrating her diversity. Plus, Grandma would definitely be shocked when she heard, "The memory of a destitute boy, surrounded by waste, consuming water from a filthy communal tap in a dilapidated shantytown of Lima, Peru still haunts me."
Community Service Isn’t For Me by Kyla
The title alone is awesome. It really makes you wonder what she means - who would say that to a college, right? She mentions "straw-thatched, mud-brick homes of host families, of learning bits and pieces of the Chichewa language, of exploring the dynamics of multi-chief, polygamous villages." Those amazing details would certainly make grandma gasp. Not until the end of the essay does she provide the conclusion. "Community service isn’t for me, it’s for Esther and Amai and all the others I seek to serve."
So the application essay is a self-portrait about an amazing moment in time - a personal story that happens to be true. Do you need to do some more research about that?