Those Important College Essays

Chief among the most important things on your college application check list is the application essay. Students are typically asked to write a self-reflective, personal, descriptive essay, that is supposed to describe who they are. Oh–and it also has to be technically perfect, too. This is a big deal! Colleges use a student’s essay to tell a great deal about them, such as how well they can write, what their thought process is like, and whether they’d fit in well with the college. Each college has unique questions–usually several different topics that they give, which they ask a student to write about. The ultimate question colleges are asking within these essay questions is, “Why should we admit you?”

When you realize that the average student applies to six different colleges, and writes approximately three essays for each college, you’ll quickly see that there just isn’t enough time in the day to write all those essays! When they’re in 10th grade, you think your children are just as busy as they could ever possibly be, but they actually get busier and busier in 11th and 12th grade, and it gets more and more difficult for them to get through the process of college application essays. That’s why it’s important to learn how to reduce, reuse and recycle your essays, so that you can do as little writing as possible in order to get this job done.

The big problem, of course, is that a self-reflective, technically perfect, descriptive essay can be a completely overwhelming assignment for teenagers. It can even be overwhelming for an adult to create a technically perfect essay. I have two boys who are not known for being self-reflective, and it was most challenging for them. One of my children doesn’t really enjoy writing and certainly doesn’t enjoy writing about feelings. He doesn’t mind so much writing about science, engineering, or chess, but writing down feelings is certainly overwhelming, and can be a difficult task. It’s important that we, as parents, understand that it can be difficult for children to do this sort of assignment; so writing them one at a time is better.

Fortunately, college topic questions often overlap significantly. If you have the option, you can carefully choose which topics you write about, and reuse the same essay for multiple college applications. This will help you significantly cut back on how much you must write. An easy way to do this is to lay out all the questions from the colleges you’re interested in, and find which ones are similar enough that you could write one essay to be used for both (or more) of them. This planning ahead will save you time, energy, and arguing with your teen! It’s a good idea to have another person review the essay too, so that it’s ‘technically perfect’ before you send it off to the colleges.

College preparation takes a lot of time, but if you put careful thought and energy into the process, it will pay off with college admittance, and hopefully some great scholarships too!

What to Put in Your Process Essays

Process  essays  are different from other forms of writing in that it describe a course of action in detail.  Rather than point out characteristics or argue a stance, its goal is to enlighten a reader by imparting the step-by-step process to achieving something in particular.  Informally done, process  essays  are often called how-to or instructional pieces, one of the most popular format of article writing.

When creating a process  essay  for class, you won’t need to cite references as strictly as you would in an opinion or a descriptive piece.  Since you’re imparting  a step-by-step procedure, it’s more important to pay attention to your descriptions as well as the different items (if they are present) the reader will need in order to replicate the process.

Apart from the actual how-to instruction, other items should also find a place in your process  essay .  The following list is a good guideline to follow:

  • Describe the process you are about to explain and give the reader a reason as to why it is important.
  • List down its potential effects.
  • Give the reader a clear description of materials, items or previous knowledge they need to have in order to successfully follow the instructions.
  • Inform the reader of other possible ways of accomplishing the same results.
  • Warn the reader of potential problems and difficulties in the process.

Writing Style

Process papers are normally best written in the second person, although some subjects (if the work is intended to show, instead of teach) may work better in the first person. Either way, make sure to use a good writing software to effectively express all of your points in the clearest manner possible.

Some Suggestions for Writing Essays

If you’re still in school or have in fact gone back to school to get a degree, you know that a major portion of the course you take will be writing  essays . And for many this is not a huge deal. After all, after you’ve done a few  essays  it should not be a problem right? The thing with that line of thinking is that there are those that no matter what, just can’t seem to write in the style that is required by most  essays  and most professors. That said, whenever a new assignment comes up they immediately dread doing it and will most often put off until the last minute. This, of course, is certainly not what you want to do and it can be completely avoided if you follow some suggestions.

One suggestion that helps quite a bit is once you get the assignment for the rest of the day, just put away and don’t think about. Do everything else they would normally do throughout your day but leave that be. When the next day arrives, take it out and take a look at the first section of your assignment. This can be anything from instructions on how to proceed to simply a list of topics that you can choose from. If it is a list of topics that you can choose from then choose the one that most interests you and stick to it as your first choice is normally your best. This will allow you to begin research and writing on something that interests you and as such will make the entire process feel a little easier.

Another suggestion is to spend the time up front and gather all of your resources and research both online and off-line together. By doing this, it allows you to have all of your research organized and together. The last thing you want to do is research while you’re trying to write. The reason for this of course is that you wind up getting confused especially if you have a lot of research to do. It’s far better to get the research together and organized before you start to write.

Once this is done, the best thing to do is split the entire assignment up into various sections and design schedule around those sections. For instance, if you know you have a month to complete the assignment then what you can do after you’ve gotten your topic and research together is take one day and quite simply write out your controversial question or argument and then the introduction. Once this is done, put away for the rest of the day. This will allow you not only time to do other things that will give you the chance to look at it with fresh eyes. And the next day you can work on a particular part of the main portion of the  essay . If you have several different sections, then make sure that you assign each section to a particular day. Never due to once and always when you’re finished writing, put it away.

One other suggestion is to never self edit as you write. This will only slow down the writing process and frustrate you. The best thing is to write without worrying about grammar and punctuation or spelling until your particular section for that days completed. The next day when you go back to it then you can more clearly see any errors and you can quickly edit at that time. This not only such splits your writing up into manageable chunks but also splits up your polishing and editing so that you’re not doing it all at once.

I Return to Reading Essays

I love reading  essays  of all kinds.

Most of what passes for the  essay  today is generally in the form of magazine articles, and may have more to do with weight loss or sex than the human condition.

However, it has been my pleasure for many years to read, not only current authors, but giants of literature such as Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, Thomas De Quincy, Thoreau, Santayana, and so on.

I read for both enlightenment and amusement, and have enjoyed the insight and humor of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Washington Irving, Mark Twain, James Thurber, and Richard Armour, to name just a few.

Over the last few years, life has forced me, or I have let it force me, to concern myself with more practical matters, and my enjoyment of a few minutes with a great mind has suffered for it. I have, in the past, read and written poetry, and this too has been superseded by other activities.

But, I have come to a time in my life when downsizing and downshifting are taking precedence. Therefore, it was not surprising when recently, while going through a box of books, most of which were destined to be sold at Half-Price Books, I uncovered a hardbound copy of “A Treasury of the  Essay  From Montaigne to E. B. White”, edited by Homer C. Combs. It wound up in the “to be sold” box, but later the same day, I recovered it and placed it on my desk.

It was a few days later that, while running a tub of hot water in which to soak, and looking for a book to occupy my mind, I noticed this treasury waiting patiently, as good books will do.

I slid into the water and opened at random to an old friend, the aforementioned Dr. Johnson, and read the following words.

“I have often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful. For, not only every man has, in the mighty mass of the world, great numbers in the same condition with himself, to whom his mistakes and miscarriages, escapes and expedients, would be of immediate and apparent use; but there is such an uniformity in the state of man, considered apart from adventitious and separable decorations and disguises, that there is scarce any possibility of good or ill but is common to human kind. A great part of the time of those who are placed at the greatest distance by fortune, or by temper, must unavoidably pass in the same manner; and thought, when the claims of nature are satisfied, caprice and vanity and accident begin to produce discriminations and peculiarities, yet the eye is not very heedful or quick which cannot discover the same causes still terminating their influence in the eh same effects, though sometimes accelerated, sometimes retarded, or perplexed by multiplied combinations. We are all prompted by the same motives, all deceived by danger, entangled by desire, and seduced by pleasure.”

– Samuel Johnson, Biography

As with many  essays , there was a great deal of common sense and insight in that paragraph which would have been given an “F” in many modern classes on how to write. It was a great example of why I love the  essay  so much, but it was also a great example of why so many today hesitate to read thoughtful pieces.

We expect the meaning of a piece of writing, or even of a movie, to be made clear to us immediately. The longer the work, the more the modern reader or viewer expects, perhaps even hopes, that all meanings will be made visible and understandable in an unfolding manner, much as is seen in a recent car commercial in which the actors comment on the big words floating around them and on the voice of the announcer.

compounding the difficulty are two facts:

1.  Essays , at least those of intelligence and insight tend to be written in some form of scholarly jargon and directed at a special audience, not the average citizen. This was true of Samuel Johnson in his day, and is still quite common today.

2. Many  essays  which may be considered classics were written at a time when English sounded, and was written, much differently from today’s forms. Once again, the quote from Johnson, above, illustrates this point.

Our schools do not teach, and society does not seem to see a need to learn, either the ability and patience to interpret any sort of difficult concepts or to understand thoughts and wisdom expressed in older forms of the language. That is left to scholars.

However, reading, as pointed out by the Abbe Ernest Dimnet in his great little book, The Art of Thinking, should always be active. That is, the reader should be willing to make an effort to understand what has been written. Also, a modern reader should understand that the knowledge or information contained in a work will probably not be understood on the first pass, or even, probably, the second.

Good writing often contains within the visible words merely a summation of the thoughts and ideas of the author. As a practice for myself, I wrote a paraphrase of the quote above.

“I have often thought that it has seldom occurred that someone has lived whose life and experiences could not be useful if presented in a judicious and thoughtful narrative.

You see, when you stop to consider the vast number of individuals in the world, there are going to be many in the same condition. Presenting to these people a story of HIS mistakes and miscarriages, HIS escapes and solutions could provide them with immediate insight into their own state, which could be of value in ordering their own lives.

While there are exceptions due to personal states, conditions, and actions; there are still areas in which all men live similar lives. In fact, there is hardly any sort of good or bad that cannot be considered, at least possibly, common to all men. Even the lives of those who could be considered the best or worst, the highest or the lowest of mankind, or those most greatly influenced by chance, personality, or accident, most of the time will be spent in the same manner as that which could be called the life of the “common man”.

Once the basics of life, and even the special circumstances and events of these people, have been accomplished and observed, it is not hard for most to see that the same basic sets of events play out in much the same way as with anyone else, and end in the same manner.

We are all prompted by the same motives, all deceived by danger, entangled by desire, and seduced by pleasure.”

That would appear to give at least an overview of Dr. Johnson’s intent, and I am happy with my “translation”. However, even as I wrote the words, having read and “understood” the original paragraph, I made changes and adjustments. A couple of times, I deleted what I had written and rewrote it to better express my understanding of the message.

To be honest, however, were I to perform the same exercise tomorrow, I would probably find that I had written an entirely different piece which still, somehow, contained the essence of the author’s original work but expressed in yet another manner.

Most thoughtful writing is actually written and rewritten several times in order to make the piece say what the author wants it to say. It is commonly necessary for the reader to read and reread several times in order to more fully understand the message broadcast over time by the author.

 Essays  can be particularly challenging because the author is generally challenged to insert so much meaning into such a small package. It can be equally challenging for the reader to extract all the meaning on the first try. While for me, one fun part of the  essay  is simply in the reading, following the ebb and flow of the wordsmith’s art, another type of fun is working the puzzle the author has set before me. Often, in fact, the harder he has worked to make the subject easy to understand, the more meaning he has hidden within his work.

I have left the  essay  behind for many years, but now my Treasury of the  Essay  is either beside my bed or on the end table beside me. I will be visiting my friends much more often in the future.