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Posted at 6:05 PM ET, 11/17/2010

Some sweet college essay advice (from a student)

By Jenna Johnson
Jenna Johnson

Today's guest blogger is Jimmy Mayers, a senior English major at St. Lawrence University in New York.

Before you tense up, close your eyes, take a deep breath. The college essay is one of the most famous parts of the college application -- and for good reason.

STLAWUMayers.bmpHere you can paint a picture of yourself that stands out from the numbers in your test scores and transcripts. So, if you're nervous about writing your college essay, change gears. Suspend your disbelief, as any good literature teacher would say, and accept for a moment that you're going to write a great college essay.

Here are a few pointers:

This is one of the most important aspects of the essay, because this is where admissions counselors really get to know you for you. Just about everything else in your application is a reflection of you through something else (grades, scores, recommendations).

The essay is your chance to look the college directly in the eye and say, "This is who I am, and this is why you should accept me." How to do this? Jot a few paragraphs about some topics you think would be strong. Then, let them cook for a day or two as you think about how to phrase what you want to say. If a good sentence comes along in the middle of the day, write it down.

Write and write and don't stop.
Once you're ready to begin writing, pour everything you have out onto that blank computer screen. Don't even think about the fact that you're writing your college essay. It will most likely be far over the word limit, which is okay. When you're making maple syrup, you have to boil down lots and lots of sap to refine the sweet final product. Highlight the parts of your essay where you really come across, and work from there.

Originality is key.
You may not have saved a kitten from the top floor of a burning building that you noticed was on fire as you were helping some old Nobel Peace Prize winner across the street. That's fine. Just pick a story from your life and show why it's important to you. It's the why that admissions counselors are looking for, not necessarily the what. Show how an incident in your life changed you, made you grow a little, or let you see something in a way that you hadn't.

Oh, and don't let a thesaurus think for you. If the words meant the same thing, they wouldn't be different.

The introduction and conclusion are your heavy hitters.
Think a lot about your opening and closing paragraphs. The college essay is short, but that doesn't mean you can't build your story from start to finish. Don't be overly dramatic in your opening, and don't try to sound like a philosopher in your conclusion, but find ways to make these parts of your essay stand out. A witty opening and some genuine reflection in the end will go a long way toward making your college essay a success.

A lot of people are apprehensive about this aspect of the college essay. How are you supposed to tell this great story about yourself without making it seem like you're arrogant? Don't worry; that's what revisions are for. The college essay is all about you, so it's natural that you should sell yourself to the admissions counselors. It's like the maple syrup metaphor -- get everything down on the page, then boil it down. Take it to somebody like your parents or a teacher, and have them help you get it down to the essentials. Second opinions are important because these people will really help you shape your college essay into a great self-portrait that carries confidence. Also, they will tell you if you're sounding arrogant.

Don't procrastinate.
All writing is a process. Don't save the essay until the day before it's due. Give yourself at least a few weeks to handle all the steps mentioned above. Most important, don't be intimidated. Look at this as one of the best opportunities that you have to influence your admissions decision. With this mindset, your final product will be as sweet as the amber treat you pour over your Eggos in the morning.

Little more about Jimmy
Jimmy Mayers is from Lyme, New Hampshire. At St. Lawrence University, he is majoring in English, with minors in film studies and government; he studied in Ireland in the summer of 2009 and was an intern in the admissions office last summer. Mayers is a member of the men's cross country and track teams.

By Jenna Johnson  | November 17, 2010; 6:05 PM ET
Categories:  Admissions  | Tags:  St. Lawrence  
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As a college consultant, I offer this kind of advice to my students, but coming from you it would be even more meaningful. You have hit the college essay on the head with some thoughts that high school seniors need to implement. If each of them checked their essays against your advice, their writing would improve dramatically.

Susie Watts
Denver, Colorado

Posted by: collegedirection | November 18, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

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