Writing the College Essay Objective



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Writing the College Essay

Objective: Students will learn to…

1) Organize their thoughts effectively and effectively support their argument with details

2) Recognize and establish connections to help them create smooth transitions. Similarly in writing the essay, the main idea must be consistently supported and developed through the entirety of the essay.

3) Focus on building and developing main theme throughout the essay.

4) Learn to show rather than tell a story

5) Identify the importance of organization and a well developed main theme

6) Identify and interpret elements of writing

7) Practice using details to understand the text is not only read but also heard and viewed

8) Learn to add details that are related and support the main theme

9) Think critically and identify relationships that require both critical and creative thought processes



Materials:

  • Six Degrees Worksheet

  • Song Sheet


Warm Up: Six Degrees of Separation (25 minutes)

1. Participants will be broken up into groups of 3-5 students.


2. Each group will be given a list of five items and they will be asked to find the relationships that connect all five items. They must keep in mind that they relationships must demonstrate a consistent form of organization that builds the relationship from one item to the next and utilize details to explain the connections.
3. Students will present their finding in the form of a story that clearly explains how each item is connected to the next with supportive use of details that allows the audience to clearly see those connections.
The objective of the activity is to organize the established connections and to show the audience rather than to tell the audience. The following rules will be explained:


  • You can not start by saying, “These items are connected because…”, instead you must consider more creative approaches to introduce the items.

  • Use vivid language and details to establish the connections

  • Organize ideas and establish a natural flow from one item to the next


Processing:

1. Was the activity challenging? What skills did the activity enable you to use?

2. How did you organize your thoughts? How did you use details to help the audience see those connections?

3. How can you use what you have learned in developing an essay?


Segue:

1. Students will be split into 3 groups and each group will be provided with the cut up lines of the song below.


2. Each group will be instructed to put the song lines in order. Once they have organized the lines they will be asked to identify the words or phrases that signal a transition from one idea to next, creating a natural flow.
3. Have each group present and identify some of the common techniques that they used in organizing the lines.

And everyday he cut the cane


He came home late and prayed for rain, prayed for rain
And on those days when nothing came
My father's face was lined with shame
He'd sit me down beside him and he'd say,
"My father was a farmer,
His father was a farmer,
And you will be a farmer."
But I told him,
"Papi, I'm sorry, I'm going farther.
I'm getting on a plane
And I'm gonna change the world someday."
And he slapped my face
He stood there, staring at me

And as a baby she amazed me with the things she learned each day


She used to stay on the fire escape while all the other kids would play
And I would stand beside her and I'd say,
"I'm proud to be your father
Cuz you worked so much harder
And you are so much smarter
Then I was at your age."
And I always knew
That she would fly away
That she was gonna change the world someday
I will not be the reason that my family can't succeed
I will do what it takes
They'll have everything they need
Or all my work, all my life
Everything I've sacrificed will have been useless
Standing in the dock at Southampton,
Trying to get to Holland or France.
The man in the mack said, "You've got to go back",
You know they didn't even give us a chance

Finally made the plane into Paris,


Honeymooning down by the Seine.
Peter Brown called to say,
"You can make it O.K.,
You can get married in Gibraltar, near Spain".

Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton,


Talking in our beds for a week.
The newspaper said, "Say what you doing in bed?"
I said, "We're only trying to get us some peace".

Made a lightning trip to Vienna,


eating chocolate cake in a bag.
The newspaper said, "She's gone to his head,
They look just like two gurus in drag".

Caught the early plane back to London.


Fifty acorns tied in a sack.
The men from the press said, "We wish you success,
It's good to have the both of you back".
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn't your father or mother or wife


Whose judgment upon you must pass.
The fellow whose verdict counts most in you life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

You may be like Jack Horner and chisel a plum


And think you're a wonderful guy.
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye.

He's the fellow to please-never mind all the rest,


For he's with you clear to the end.
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years


And get pats on the back as you pass.
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you've cheated the man in the glass.


Processing:

  • How was this activity?

  • What were clues that you used to figure out what order the story was in?

  • How did the Lyricist tell the story?

  • If you were telling a story about yourself, would you use similar tactics?

  • How would you tell a story about yourself?


Main Activity:

1. A college essay is asking you tell a story about yourself. Write down five significant moments in your life that can help recreate a picture of who you are and select five adjective that describe you.


Significant Moments Adjectives

_____________________ _____________________

_____________________ _____________________

_____________________ _____________________

_____________________ _____________________

_____________________ _____________________

2. Select one of the significant moments that can help show the reader how it reflects one or more of the adjective that you have selected. Make sure that you select a moment that you can write about in detail.
3. Write an outline of the essay using the following layout and the tip sheet.


Central Theme: __________________________

Introduction

The strong introduction will present the central theme and catch the readers’ attention.

________________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________________


Body

The body will develop your theme through the use of examples and detailed experiences that consistently reinforce the central theme. Transitions help connect one idea to next and help establish a structured essay.

I. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________





(Transition) - __________________________________________________________________________
II. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

(Transition) - ____________________________________________________________________________
III. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


(Transition) - ___________________________________________________________________________
IV.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




Conclusion

The conclusion should broader the perspective through further reflection on the central them and wraps up your essay without summarizing or repeating what has already been written

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tips for Writing the College Essay

Dos

1. Keep Your Focus Narrow and Personal

Your essay must prove a single point or thesis. The reader must be able to find your main idea and follow it from beginning to end. Try having someone read just your introduction to see what he thinks your essay is about.

Essays that try to be too comprehensive end up sounding watered-down. Remember, it's not about telling the committee what you've done—they can pick that up from your list of activities—instead, it's about showing them who you are.
2. Prove It

Develop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, quotations, examples, and reasons. There's a big difference between simply stating a point of view and letting an idea unfold in the details:



  • Okay: "I like to be surrounded by people with a variety of backgrounds and interests"

  • Better: "During that night, I sang the theme song from Casablanca with a baseball coach who thinks he's Bogie, discussed Marxism with a little old lady, and heard more than I ever wanted to know about some woman's gall bladder operation."

3. Be Specific

Avoid clichéd, generic, and predictable writing by using vivid and specific details.



  • Okay: "I want to help people. I have gotten so much out of life through the love and guidance of my family, I feel that many individuals have not been as fortunate; therefore, I would like to expand the lives of others."

  • Better: "My Mom and Dad stood on plenty of sidelines 'til their shoes filled with water or their fingers turned white, or somebody's golden retriever signed his name on their coats in mud. I think that kind of commitment is what I'd like to bring to working with fourth-graders."

Don'ts

1. Don't Tell Them What You Think They Want to Hear

Most admissions officers read plenty of essays about the charms of their university, the evils of terrorism, and the personal commitment involved in being a doctor. Bring something new to the table, not just what you think they want to hear.



2. Don't Write a Resume

Don't include information that is found elsewhere in the application. Your essay will end up sounding like an autobiography, travelogue, or laundry list. Yawn.



  • "During my junior year, I played first singles on the tennis team, served on the student council, maintained a B+ average, traveled to France, and worked at a cheese factory."

3. Don't Use 50 Words When Five Will Do

Eliminate unnecessary words.



  • Okay: "Over the years it has been pointed out to me by my parents, friends, and teachers—and I have even noticed this about myself, as well—that I am not the neatest person in the world."

  • Better: "I'm a slob."

4. Don't Forget to Proofread

Typos and spelling or grammatical errors can be interpreted as carelessness or just bad writing. Don't rely on your computer's spell check. It can miss spelling errors like the ones below.



  • "After I graduate form high school, I plan to work for a nonprofit organization during the summer."

  • "From that day on, Daniel was my best fried."

This article is based on information found in The College Application Essay, by Sarah Myers McGinty, which is available through our online store. 

http://www.collegeboard.com/student/apply/essayskills/9406.html

Additional Resources:

Tip Sheet: An Admissions Dean Offers Advice on Writing a College Essay


By MARTHA C. MERRILL
Periodically, in a feature called “Tip Sheet,” The Choice will post short items by admissions officers, guidance counselors and others to help applicants and their families better understand aspects of the admissions process. As an inaugural post in this series, Martha C. Merrill, the dean of admission and financial aid of Connecticut College, and a graduate of the class of 1984, encourages incoming high school seniors to begin contemplating their college essays this summer. She also offers perspective on what she looks for in an applicant’s essay.

Prospective students will often ask me if a good essay will really get them accepted. The truth is that while no essay will make an unqualified student acceptable, a good essay can help a qualified applicant stand out from the competition. A good essay just might be what turns a “maybe” into a “yes.”

The college application process takes time, preparation and creativity, which is a lot for any active senior to handle. Summer, however, typically offers about 10 weeks free of classes and homework and many of the other stresses that come with high school. The pressure of the looming college application deadline is still months away, which allows students the freedom to play around with different ideas, test different angles and solicit feedback from friends and family.

Another reason to focus your summer energy on crafting a quality essay: at this point in the admission process, it is one of the few things you can still control. This is your chance to show us what you are capable of when you have time to think, prepare, rewrite and polish.



While there is no magic formula for the perfect admission essay, there are a few things prospective college students should know. Here are my Top Ten tips:

  • Write about yourself. A great history paper on the Civil War might be very well written, but it doesn’t tell me anything about the writer. Regardless of the topic, make sure you shine through your essay.

  • Use your own voice. I can tell the difference between the voice of a 40-year-old and a high school senior.

  • Focus on one aspect of yourself. If you try to cover too many topics in your essay, you’ll end up with a resume of activities and attributes that doesn’t tell me as much about you as an in-depth look at one project or passion.

  • Be genuine. Don’t try to impress me, because I’ve heard it all. Just tell me what is important to you.

  • Consider a mundane topic. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that make the best essays. Some of my favorites have included essays that reflect on the daily subway ride to school, or what the family goldfish observed from the fishbowl perched on the family kitchen table. It doesn’t have to be a life-changing event to be interesting and informative.

  • Don’t rely on “how to” books. Use them to get your creative juices flowing, but don’t adhere too rigidly to their formulas, and definitely don’t use their example topics. While there are always exceptions, the “what my room says about me” essay is way overdone.

  • Share your opinions, but avoid anything too risky or controversial. Your essay will be read by a diverse group of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, so try to appeal to the broadest audience possible.

  • Tell a good story. Show me why you are compassionate; don’t tell me you are. Show me that you have overcome great difficulty; don’t start your essay with “I have overcome great difficulties.”

  • Don’t repeat what is already in your application. If you go to a performing arts school and all of your extracurricular activities and awards relate to dance, don’t write about how much you love dancing. Tell me something I couldn’t know just from reading the other parts of your application.

  • Finally, don’t forget about the supplements. The supplement questions are very important – you should plan to spend as much time on them as you do on your essay. A well-written essay won’t help if your supplement answers are sloppy and uninformative.

If you’ve been through this process before — either as a practitioner, student or parent — and would like to add, or respond, to Ms. Merrill’s list, use the comment box below. If you’d like to propose a future subject for “Tip Sheet” — one you’d want to read, or perhaps even propose writing — please send a short email message to us at thechoice@nytimes.com

How to Write a Killer Essay

New York Times Upfront , Dec 13, 1999 by Glenn C. Altschuler

GLENN C. ALTSCHULER is a dean and professor at Cornell University.

An Ivy League dean offers six tips to steer your admission essay in the right direction:

1. Write about your world and your experiences. A 17-year-old inhabits a foreign country, and adults who work in colleges are curious about what it’s like to live within its borders. Essays about a friendship that was forged or one that failed, buying a pair of sneakers, an afternoon working at Dunkin’ Donuts, or getting robbed on the subway can provide glimpses of your ideas, values, and passions.

2. Avoid writing about national and global issues. You’ll sound like a teenager trying to sound like an adult.

3. Describe, don’t characterize. Minimize adjectives and adverbs. “The Coach Who Changed My Life” may be healthy, wealthy, and wise, but these qualities can best be conveyed in a narrative of what he actually said and did. In “Ode to Dad,” a Cornell applicant explained her father’s values by describing his hands, encrusted with dirt from a career as a truck farmer. It worked.

4. Resist the temptation to let others speak for you. A quotation from a philosopher, poet, or politician may appear to be the perfect opportunity to parade your erudition. More often than not, however, you will impress no one.

5. Establish distance from your subject. Distance discourages essayists from drawing the cliched moral. Every semester I yearn for the applicant who will declare that organized sports are not a metaphor for life, that the race is not always to the swift. Years ago we admitted a student whose essay, “Riding the Pine,” found that no enduring truths came from sitting on the bench for an entire baseball season. It’s OK to be just a bit confused, to find the meaning of life elusive.

6. Know yourself. Selection committee members are pretty savvy. They have learned to look for authenticity, not profundity. But knowing yourself, on paper, takes imagination, reflection, and time. Start early, let parents and friends read it, and then revise. The voice you find may be your own.

10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay

By Jeremy S. Hyman, Lynn F. Jacobs

September 15, 2010




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No subject is more fraught with anxiety for the high school senior than the essay on the college application. Whether it is as bizarre as the University of Chicago's "How do you feel about Wednesday?"; University of Pennsylvania's "You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217."; or Tufts University's "Are We Alone?"—or whether it is a more mundane question about a formative experience you've had in your life, or about some controversial social or political issue, students tremble at the very thought of writing the essay and being judged on it.

We wondered what tips could be offered to ease the pain. For advice, we turned to visiting blogger Jonathan Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, who before that was the senior associate director of admissions (and humanities instructor) at Stanford University. He should know; he's been on both sides of the high school/college door. Here are his 10 best tips:



1. Be concise. Even though the Common Application main essay has only a suggested minimum of 250 words, and no upper limit, every admissions officer has a big stack to read every day; he or she expects to spend only a couple of minutes on the essay. If you go over 700 words, you are straining their patience, which no one should want to do.

[See more tips at U.S. News's Guide to Admissions.]



2. Be honest. Don't embellish your achievements, titles, and offices. It's just fine to be the copy editor of the newspaper or the treasurer of the Green Club, instead of the president. Not everyone has to be the star at everything. You will feel better if you don't strain to inflate yourself.

3. Be an individual. In writing the essay, ask yourself, "How can I distinguish myself from those thousands of others applying to College X whom I don't know—and even the ones I do know?" It's not in your activities or interests. If you're going straight from high school to college, you're just a teenager, doing teenage things. It is your mind and how it works that are distinctive. How do you think? Sure, that's hard to explain, but that's the key to the whole exercise.

4. Be coherent. Obviously, you don't want to babble, but I mean write about just one subject at a time. Don't try to cover everything in an essay. Doing so can make you sound busy, but at the same time, scattered and superficial. The whole application is a series of snapshots of what you do. It is inevitably incomplete. The colleges expect this. Go along with them.

5. Be accurate. I don't mean just use spell check (that goes without saying). Attend to the other mechanics of good writing, including conventional punctuation in the use of commas, semi-colons, etc. If you are writing about Dickens, don't say he wrote Wuthering Heights. If you write about Nietzsche, spell his name right.

6. Be vivid. A good essay is often compared to a story: In many cases it's an anecdote of an important moment. Provide some details to help the reader see the setting. Use the names (or invent them) for the other people in the story, including your brother, teacher, or coach. This makes it all more human and humane. It also shows the reader that you are thinking about his or her appreciation of your writing, which is something you'll surely want to do.

7. Be likable. Colleges see themselves as communities, where people have to get along with others, in dorms, classes, etc. Are you someone they would like to have dinner with, hang out with, have in a discussion section? Think, "How can I communicate this without just standing up and saying it, which is corny." Subtlety is good.

8. Be cautious in your use of humor. You never know how someone you don't know is going to respond to you, especially if you offer something humorous. Humor is always in the eye of the beholder. Be funny only if you think you have to. Then think again.

9. Be controversial (if you can). So many kids write bland essays that don't take a stand on anything. It is fine to write about politics, religion, something serious, as long as you are balanced and thoughtful. Don't pretend you have the final truth. And don't just get up on your soapbox and spout off on a sensitive subject; instead, give reasons and arguments for your view and consider other perspectives (if appropriate). Colleges are places for the discussion of ideas, and admissions officers look for diversity of mind.

10. Be smart. Colleges are intellectual places, a fact they almost always keep a secret when they talk about their dorms, climbing walls, and how many sports you can play. It is helpful to show your intellectual vitality. What turns your mind on? This is not the same thing as declaring an intended major; what matters is why that subject interests you.

© Copyright 2010 Professors' Guide LLC. All rights reserved.

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