The college application essay has raised so many questions from prospective students and their parents that Johns Hopkins University’s Admissions Committee created a page on its website called Essays That Worked. The site features essays written by students admitted to the university, with comments from Admissions Committee members about what they liked about each story.
The essays 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 activity sheets. The most important thing to remember is to be original and creative as you share your own story with us.”
So what do you want colleges to know about you?
Whatever the prompt, and no matter what college you are applying to, your job is to answer the question with a meaningful story that best illustrates who you are. That way, the admissions committee can decide if you are a good fit for their university.
If you look at the Johns Hopkins site, be careful not to copy an idea or style from the sample essays. Rather, pay attention to the common message in the comments.
In the first sample, by Katie, the reader makes note of her superb vocabulary, but also suggests that her attitude and vision are what made her stand out.
“But, not just any applicant—even with a summer abroad and a sharply honed vocabulary—could write as successful an essay as Katie’s,” the reader says. “What is far more important about her composition is the impression that we form about Katie’s vision of and attitude towards the world. We learn that she reaches out to people who have conditions very different from her own and tries to learn from their experiences while simultaneously teaching them about the world from which she comes.
By the time that we reach the end of her essay, we feel as though we genuinely understand this adventurous and open-minded spirit. Moreover, we want to get to know her better and are excited about the possibility of her forming part of our upcoming freshman class.”
The message is one Wow reiterates throughout the 10-step college essay writing process: the experience is not as important as why it mattered to the applicant.
Need some help finding your story and writing it in your own words and your own voice? Check out the Wow Writing Workshop schedule. Kim Lifton is a co-founder of Wow Writing Worskhop.