How to Crack the College Code 101, Part 1: The Essay

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One of the keys to admissions is a solid essay that sets you apart.

Estefania Henao, Discoverer Marketing Director

It is your first day in High School, no more silly bell songs. It is time to get serious. One day you decide, “I want to go to college abroad,”  but you see that day so far away it is just a plan. In a blink of an eye you are suddenly a senior and that plan is now reality. Applications are due in months, weeks, and even days, but the question remains how do I get into college? 

While there is not an exact procedure to follow in order to get into college, there are definitely some tips and tricks you can follow to make your application a strong one because you do want to stand out, don’t you? 

Niche

So you have good grades? Great, but that is just the base. Every single applicant probably has perfect grades, test scores, and hard classes; now the difference is what sets you apart. What makes you, you? Embrace what makes you different; embrace what others might not have in their application. Something that already makes you unique is that you come from Colombia. Not a lot of people have that on their application, so embrace your culture. 

Give your application some texture. Maybe you can make an admissions officer laugh, maybe you are super mature, developed, or strong. Texture can also mean being positive, humble, funny, and authentic. Show this either through your essays or activities. Focus on the traits that make you different.

Show that you are intellectually curious, that learning is something you are interested in even outside the classroom. Show what makes you interested or excited about learning. For some students it can be sports, for others buisiness, creative writing, music, and even something as random as birds or rocks. Do not worry if it is something extremely quirky or something that our culture would categorize as wierd. It is important for colleges to know that you don’t only learn and do well for school, but for yourself. The more specific the better.

Colleges are looking to admit a well-rounded class, not so much a well-rounded student, so if you are not involved in a bunch of clubs or activities, do not worry. Focus on one or two things that you are very passionate or good at. Elena Lisarazu, former TCS student was part of a band who made their intruments out of recycled materials. Unique right? This are the types of things admissions officers get impressed by. Not so much your academics because that is something the rest of the applicants already have. Make sure you stress how passionate you are about this subject and how much you have dedicated to it. Make your application have a niche. A theme. Having a theme makes admissions officers remember you. When they bring your application up to committee or a second reader, they can remember you as the “social service girl” or “the Colombian guy who loves theater.” 

College Essays

Let’s talk about essays. When writing your college essays you must be yourself, as cliche as it sounds. Let your voice stand out, peak through, but like every good writer and orator you must know your audience. Admissions officers. A webinar presented by a former Stanford admissions officer suggests, “When you are an admissions officer, you work primarily for college professors because when you go to college that is what you do, go to class. So when admissions officers look at applicants they want to admit students that professors would want in their class: students who are passionate about what they are learning, the smartest, the most thoughtful, oh and it would be great if they weren’t jerks!” Admissions officers are looking for future campus protagonists. They want to select people that they know will be active on their campus. Leaders, initiators of clubs, organizations… So it is important that you show that you have a life outside of school. Because you do, right?

A good place to start when choosing a topic is knowing what topics are a no-go. The following are topics that are repetitive and should be avoided.

Number one: your hero. Great, your grandparents inspired you because they had a really tough life, but avoid talking too much about other people. Admissions officers want to admit you, not your grandparents, so if you are going to talk about other people, talk about how they inspired you, what you took from them, how they helped you grow. 

Number two: the sports injury. Admissions officers have read the same story a thousand times. The soccer player who got injured, was traumatized, worked hard to recover and made it just in time for the finals to score the winning goal. Not unique! In fact, it has probably happened to most athletes. Focus on something that will tell the admissions officers more about you.

Number three: your savior complex. (Service trips) It is nice that you love to give and make service trips, but if you’re going to write a whole essay about it most of the time it will sound arrogant. How your trip to Africa made you realize how much poverty the world is in. Really? This just shows them that you have enough money to fly to Africa, see kids, and then forget about them. And again, many students might write about this too. 

Number four: the tragedy. This one might be a little harsh but these are cliche topics such as parents divorce, death, bullying. Of course, you want to show them that you are a fighter and that your life has not been easy, but when tackling these subjects you must be careful. Some students write in a way that just sounds like they want pity. If you are going to talk about a difficult situation, spend some sentences or a paragraph describing the obstacle and then focus on how you were able to overcome that obstacle. What did you take away from that? How did it help you grow? Focus on these questions. 

Finally, when you have chosen a subject to write about, make your essay creative. Use figurative language. Admissions officers love this. Metaphors, personification, anecdotes, repetition, anaphora, with college essays, the sky is the limit. It is not necessary to use extremely formal writing because that is not how you talk. Balance the tone between a formal one but not a college thesis one. 

Altogether, this is a very complex topic. But it all comes down to being UNIQUE. Make them remember you because you are special. 

Work Cited

Young, F. Y. B. (2021, September 9). How to get into top colleges – With former Stanford admissions officer. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S__O4hlPEGU&feature=youtu.be

Cynthia, D. (2021, October 21). 73 Questions With A Former IVY LEAGUE ADMISSIONS OFFICER | New York Times Published Author. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2i4lSMpG7Rk&feature=youtu.be

Liebowitz, C. (2022, June 14). Top College Essay Topics to Avoid and Why. International College Counselors. https://internationalcollegecounselors.com/top-college-essay-topics-to-avoid-and-why/

Peoples, C. (2022, October 19). Higher Ed Hacks: How to Ace Your College Applications and Essays. Sallie Mae. https://www.salliemae.com/blog/college-application-and-essay-tips/

College Essay Guy. (2019, June 7). 7 GREAT College Essay Tips to Help You Stand Out. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhtfrSO8GWo&feature=youtu.be

Khan, G. (2022, September 19). The Worst Kinds of College Essays. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGf36IZK92o&feature=youtu.be