Models of college essay successes?
When you’re writing your college essay, you’re often advised to read the sample college essays of previous applicants– the ones that got the students admitted, the ones that didn’t. From the successful ones, you get some ideas of what to do. From the flops, you learn what not to do. Sounds easy enough. After all, you want to get into your top college choice, and these writers did– or didn’t.
But the reality is a little trickier and more nuanced– and as awake people, it’s our job to pay attention to nuance.
Here’s Essay Intensive’s view on reading sample essays:
We are always learning from others how to write– whether journalists, novelists, poets, or Tweeters. So, all good to seek inspiration from a genre’s “masters” or popular models of what works. After all, however fantastically written, these college essays are intended to be means to an end, and if there is any repeatable winning formula, you’d be smart to learn it.
However, there is the danger that once you see that successful admissions essay, you can’t think outside of someone else’s box. And your story may be so different from their story that their model, their “formula,” won’t work as the best vehicle for what you want to say. And you won’t produce a successful essay, even if you are a skilled copyist.
Despite this warning, there are still good reasons to check out sample essays:
- Other people’s stories can be fascinating, well told, enjoyable and instructive in their own right. Yay, other people!
- You can learn from the structure and voice of the essay (rather than the content alone) how best to narrate your own story.
- You can maintain critical distance when reading someone else’s work– is it compelling? is it boring? why? why not?–which is harder to maintain for your own. Once you practice evaluating strengths and weaknesses, you can turn that eye back to your own writing.
So read the essay as if you were an admissions officer, not a smitten fan club or an automatic hater.
What do you think this writer is like as a person? Would you want to hang out with him or her, talk about problems, life, triumphs? What do you think is the most important thing, character trait, or message that the writer is trying to convey– or is it fuzzy? Does the voice sound natural and individual– or not?
But still– you can look at a million models, but you still have to sit down, face yourself, and crank out your essay. So contact us if you need help facing the music, and meanwhile, check out these impressive sample college essays from past Essay Intensive students (click on the photo to reveal their writing)