Mrs. B’s Dozen Dos and Don’ts for Successful Essays
1. Start by acknowledging that this is a unique kind of writing, not like anything you have done for school. It is informal and chatty and should include personal anecdotes and dialog.
2. Tell a story that only you can tell. If someone else could submit your essay, your writing is too generic.
3. If you can’t get started writing, try talking about an incident as if you are telling a story to a friend. Record or have someone jot down notes. Or, write a letter to a friend telling your story. This helps create the proper informal tone.
4. Finalize your first sentence last, after you have figured out your story. That first sentence must grab the reader and make her want to read more.
5. Connect your start and your finish, but be sure to conclude memorably. Your objective is to make certain that the reader will remember you after finishing your essay. Don’t sum up with a platitude, e.g., “That is why my trip to Europe was important to me.”
6. Show, don’t tell! Describe exactly what is happening, incorporating your senses. What are you hearing, seeing, touching, feeling, smelling? Make the reader experience your experience. Show how you have changed or what you've learned from your experience.
7. Don’t fall in love or marry any particular language. You might write a terrific sentence or phrase that you really love, but when you edit, you discover it doesn’t fit in or add to your story. Don’t keep it! The flow, organization, and revealing something meaningful about yourself are your priorities, not any specific language!
8. Use positive language -- depict yourself in a positive light. You want the reader to want to get to know you better. Don’t portray negative characteristics.
9. Keep your audience in mind. The overall impression of you as a person, as a thinker, as a prospective member of the campus is MOST important – not the actual story.
10. There are no taboo topics. You will read lists of what not to write about: death, travel, religion, politics. It is the treatment of the topic that matters, not the topic itself. A well-written essay that reveals something relevant, uniquely you, and not elsewhere in your application is your goal -- the topic is just your vehicle.
11. Make every word count. Word limit or character limit does matter; you will find those who say otherwise, but why risk it? Some admission folks may not even read your essay if it exceeds the limit, dismissing you as someone who doesn’t follow directions.
12. Know from the get-go that you will go through many drafts to create the perfectly “you” essay. All good writers rewrite, revise, and refine multiple times. Allow yourself sufficient time to go through all the necessary essay-creating steps, including that all-important final proofreading.