Good college essays are interesting. Truly great essays make the admissions officer feel genuine love for the applicant.
So what makes a reader feel love for the writer? Think about the qualities of people that you want to be around, the type of people that you want to see succeed, and then, if you have these qualities, show them to the reader. What are some of these qualities?
You will never hear a sane person say, “I don’t like her because she’s nice.” (Ok, “fake nice,” that’s different, but every reasonable person likes kind people.) We want to be around people who make us feel good. The reader should want to know you and be friends with you. Show them your kindness, empathy, and conscientiousness through anecdotes.
We all love it when people prevail against difficult or unfair circumstances — it makes us feel optimistic about the world. If you have persevered and prevailed, then these can be attractive narratives.
We’re not all funny. Just ask my wife: I am apparently the least funny person ever. So, if humor is not your thing, don’t push it. But, if it is, humor will make the reader like you. And liking you helps open the door to loving you.
You can show your imperfections because we are all imperfect. You can show your quirky side because none of us fit the mold. In short, authenticity helps the reader see you as a person (instead of as grades and numbers on an application) and will help the reader relate to and connect with your story. It is much more difficult to reject a person you know and love than an impersonal persona of grades and accomplishments.
The worst (the literal worst) essays demonstrate arrogance. No one likes being around arrogant people. Confidence is good, but arrogance is self-administered poison in your essay. Want to avoid it? Show gratitude. Showing thankfulness for what you have been given, for the opportunities you have, and for the people in your life is a guaranteed antidote to arrogance and a way to demonstrate humility.
Admission officers are like everyone else: we all want to see good people who will contribute to their communities succeed.
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Molly and Neve talk about their experience at Summit Prep: