Top questions about essay writing for US undergraduate admission

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Seberapa pentingnya sih esai untuk admission? Apa sih yang dicari admission officers dalam sebuah esai? Apa saja perangkap-perangkap umum dalam menulis sebuah esai? Dan bagaimanakah kamu yang tidak terlatih untuk menulis esai, apalagi dalam Bahasa Inggris, bisa akhirnya menghasilkan sebuah mahakarya yang meyakinkan? Dalam tulisan ini, Charlotte West, seorang mantan international student advisor di Green River Community College yang telah menasehati ratusan mahasiswa/i Indonesia dan kenal dengan sistem pendidikan Indonesia, dan juga Kirk Daulerio, mantan admission officer di universitas-universitas ternama seperti Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania dan Bowdoin College, meluangkan waktu mereka untuk menjawab pertanyaan-pertanyaan di atas khusus untuk pembaca Indonesia Mengglobal. Mari simak artikel yang satu ini untuk bisa menulis esai yang bagus untuk admission. Jangan lupa juga untuk membaca artikel tanya-jawab sebelumnya seputar undergraduate admission yang juga dijawab oleh Charlotte dan Kirk.

You can submit your questions about U.S. college admissions to the AdmitHub forum, AboutAdmissions.com. Besides the free forum, AdmitHub also provides an affordable application review service and hourly college counseling on an individual basis. Check out this page for more details on their services. AdmitHub was also just featured on TechCrunch! AdmitHub is offering a 20 percent discount on its services until December 31, 2014 to Indonesia Mengglobal readers using the promo code INDO2014.

1. I don’t understand the point of writing essays. Is it even important? What do admission officers want to get from our essays?

As a former admission officer at Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Bowdoin, I can tell you unequivocally that your essays are crucially important in the admission process.

A few thoughts:

  • Think of the essay as an opportunity to add something different/unique to your application, aside from your grades, test scores, activities, honors, etc. Try not to repeat information that can already be found elsewhere in your application.
  • Have a story to tell about your background, your personality, your goals, your growth and development? Great! Any anecdotal information you can write about will capture the admission officer’s attention and lend texture to your application.
  • Brainstorm ideas, write an outline, use bullet points, then write a rough draft. Get your top ideas down on paper, then write the essay around them. It makes the process a little less daunting than feeling you need to sit down and write an entire essay from scratch.
  • Edit, edit, edit! Don’t just write one draft and think it’s finished. Show it to people you trust, get their opinions, then go back and make changes. This should be a process of personal discovery as well as an effort in writing a succinct, grammatically correct, informational, and interesting composition.
  • Answer the question asked! Don’t think that “One essay fits all.” Different essay questions require different responses.

Also, check out this AdmitHub Forum post I wrote on the topic of writing essays.

Kirk Daulerio, Co-Founder of AdmitHub.com and former admission officer at Princeton, Penn, and Bowdoin

2. What are the most common pitfalls in writing essays?

Here are the first ones that came to mind:

  • Writing about what you think admissions officers want to hear rather than sharing information that gives them a better sense of who you are.
  • Writing a list of activities that are already reflected elsewhere in your application. Your essay should add something different about your personality, values, goals, etc.
  • Not answering the question that is being asked. Sometimes this is because students don’t really understand the question, and other times this is because they try to use the same essay for multiple prompts. One way to avoid this pitfall is to break the question down and make sure you are answering all parts of it.
  • Not following the directions in the application. If the essay prompt asks for 300 words and you send the admissions office a 1,000-word essay, not only will they not read the whole thing, it will reflect poorly on you as someone who can’t follow directions.
  • Being too generic. If the paragraph you just wrote could describe any student at any top university in any major city, it’s time to delete it and start over, this time giving details that show how you are unique. Every student wants to gain an education to obtain knowledge, skills and experience that will make him or her successful in the future. Give the reader something different.
  • Not giving enough details. This is related to the point above. I don’t just want to know that you are creative, I want to hear about specific examples where you talk about a movie you made, a book you wrote, an independent project you did with your favorite teacher.
  • Not researching the university. Don’t just pick a university because it is a top-ranked school. You should be able to articulate why a particular school is the right fit for you. I see too many essays where students write that they want to go to a school because it is “the best”. But why is it “the best” for you? Do they have any unique programs that fit with your career interests? What kind of research or internship opportunities does your department offer? Maybe you want to start your own business someday, and your business school has a focus on entrepreneurship. Or maybe you are a psychology major who also speaks Spanish and the psychology department offers a summer study abroad program in Peru.
  • Writing about someone else. For example, many universities will have a prompt that asks you to reflect on your family history and what that has meant for your personal development. Students will essentially write a biography of their mothers, fathers, or grandparents, but then fail to reflect on how their interactions with their family members have helped shaped who they are.

– Charlotte West, former international student advisor at Green River Community College

3. Under the Indonesian education system, we are not trained in essay-writing skills. How can I improve and eventually be able to write a persuasive essay?

The best way to become a successful writer is to become an avid reader. Read books and essays in English that feature personal writing so you can see how authors craft a story — look at structure, tone, style, etc. The other advice I’d offer is: write, write, write. The more you write, the easier it will become. Keep a journal where you write about both the big and small things. You’d be surprised at how the smallest moments can turn into the best stories.

Also keep in mind that learning how to write persuasively is a skill that will serve you well not only when writing your college essay, but also when you write cover letters when applying for a job, when you apply to graduate school and for writing that you do in your future career. Being able to articulate your strengths, your skills and your goals will also be helpful in job interviews.

A final mantra to remember is “Show, don’t tell”. Good writing uses vivid language — especially strong and active verbs — and details that make the reader feel like they are there with you in the moment. Instead of saying, “I read magazines and newspapers while I ate dinner,” say “The New York Times and Newsweek became my daily breakfast companions”.

– Charlotte West, former international student advisor at Green River Community College

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Charlotte Louise West
AdmitHub.com is a place where students from around the world can get free, expert college admissions advice from the people who know the process from the inside out. The site was founded by Kirk Daulerio, a former admissions officer at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Bowdoin College, and Andrew Magliozzi, an education technology entrepreneur and author of How to Get Into Your Harvard. AdmitHub.com has a team of former admissions officers and international student advisors from highly selective colleges and universities across the United States, including Bowdoin, Brown, Carleton, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Harvard, Haverford, Macalester, New York University, Princeton, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore, Tufts, Wellesley, and more. The AdmitHub team also has extensive experience assessing applications from international students. Several team members have also worked as international student recruiters and international student advisors, including in the community college system.