I distinctly remember the feeling of looking at the blank page with the FSU college essay prompt above, wondering what I could say to stand out. No one in my family had been to college and I had no idea what to write to stand out. My teachers were giving me all of this advice and assuring me that if I am honest and unforgettable, I will get in. I wasn’t nearly as confident. Recently, someone I know was telling me of their exact same fear as they were applying to some of the top schools in the country. This will help with responding to prompts that ask the emotional questions, like tough times, overcoming, and strength. Sometimes, they will even ask why you are choosing that particular school. Sprinkle some emotion on that answer as well. You will find throughout this article that pathos is the key to answering these prompts. You have to make an impact. These were the tips that I told him from my experience as a writer and an English major at FSU:
Most college application essays have prompts that ask about your personal life: What has challenged you? What is an event you have gone through that has impacted your life? These spark very personal responses and that is exactly what they are meant to do. They want to hear about you in a snapshot, and what makes you unique. It can be difficult to talk about these things because all you know is that you are writing to some random individual in a college admissions office at the university you want to go to. I encourage you to be honest anyway, a lot is riding on your essay and the way that you choose to answer. However, do not lie. Do not make up a traumatic event to make your life sound more interesting and make your chances of acceptance better. They may find out, make it unlikely you would get accepted.
Often times, because we are writing a college essay, we think that our tone should be professional. This means nothing too personal and certainly nothing too emotional. Considering this, though, if college admissions offices are going through essay after essay of professional language and tone, they would get bored. The essays would most likely blend together and how do you stand out then? In the case of most colleges, including FSU, these admissions officers will never meet you, they won’t get too see you are and what you are like in person and that is why your tone in your essays is so important. You need to be uniquely you–respectful, yes– but have your own voice and emotional story to share with them. Tell them something about you that sticks with them.
Even though we aren’t looking for a professional tone in your writing, you should still be considering grammar and proper usage of sentence structure. These college essays will not only be capturing the essence of who you are but your ability to convey your thoughts in a logical, understandable way. If they are bogged down by errors in your writing it could distract from the story you are trying to tell. Ask an English teacher to review your essay before your final submission.
4. Capturing opening
Imagine working in a college admissions office and reading tons of college essays, it can get pretty boring depending on what everyone is writing. This is why it is so important that you capture their attention as quickly as you can. Have you ever had your English teachers tell you to start every essay and short story with a capturing opening? The same concept applies here. Think of a way to start your story or lesson with a sentence that is in medias res, meaning that it is right in the middle of the tension of the story. This is the perfect way to ensure they will stay interested in your story and that it will stick with them.
You are probably catching on that impact has a lot to do with your college essays. When responding to your prompt, pick the time in your life that is going to make an impact on your answer. This has to be a defining moment that contributes to your answer to the prompt. For example, the prompt could be asking why you are choosing to apply to that particular school. An impactful response would be that when you were little, you toured the school and met a professor who worked in the engineering department and what they said changed your way of thinking and you knew that was what you wanted to do with your life. This doesn’t happen to every person, but there is always a unique and impactful reason for each person. This is the kind of detail that people want to hear, they will know the importance of acceptance into their college.
6. Leave it on a positive note
If you know that you are going to be discussing something that could be sad to read about, attempt to bring it back to a positive note. While it is good to talk about something that evokes emotion from your reader, leaving it on a positive note that tells of the impact the event had on you will make it so that they know that you have grown from the event that happened to you. Also, the prompt may even ask for you to tell of how this event did effect, which leads to a perfect time to make a full circle back to where you are now. College essays are about showing that you have grown and can continue to grow through your admission to the school you are applying to.