Write of Passage

How to Approach the College Application Essay and Get the Most Out of It

            I am 100% with you. The primary reason we take the necessary time and effort to write outstanding college application essays is to move the needle in our favor when applying to the universities we so badly want to attend. College application essays are a key determinant in the college admissions process, growing more important with each passing year. So, the first goal of the essay must be to encourage the college admissions officer to say, “This is a young person we MUST have on our campus,” as they wade through the countless applications that come across their desk each year.

            But there is more to this process. Much more, in fact! The journey that we embark on to write the most impactful college application essay should not just be viewed as a box to check off in the application process. Oh, no, no, NO! The essay process should be viewed as an opportunity, a rite of passage. As college counseling extraordinaire Rod Skinner put it, “Psychologist Michael Thompson once described the college process as a failed rite of passage…by focusing on college results and not on the moral and social growth of the student, we have robbed students of a crucial developmental moment.” (Fundamentals of College Admission Counseling, Fifth Edition 2019).

            It’s vital for you, the college application essay writer, to shift your perspective. The essay is not only your chance to move college admission officers with your writing and achieve the desired result of getting admitted. It is also an incredible opportunity to better understand yourself through self-reflection, which is an important and powerful life lesson. What a valuable lesson to learn at such a young age. I’m 47, and honestly, I didn’t really learn the value of reflection until I was 40 or so and wish I had learned this lesson much earlier in life. How fortunate you are! The college application essay writing process offers you the chance to begin answering questions like:

  • Who are you at this point in your life? 
  • What are you about? 
  • What is important to you? 
  • What really makes you tick?

            So, I urge you to set aside the necessary time to work through this college application process earnestly. Take the time to reflect, meditate, brainstorm, and journal long before you begin formally writing your personal statement (aka common app or college essay) and supplemental essays. As author Burton Rascoe once said, “A writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”

            When you take the time to buy into the value of reflection, you will achieve the ideal result of crafting a college application essay that is meaningful, revealing, and true to you. You will, undoubtedly, begin to know yourself better. And more than that, this depth and honesty will come across in your final essays, which will, in turn, allow you to provide admissions officers more insight into who you are beyond the application. The personal connection you form with the admissions officer will let them know who you are as a person, beneath the impressive transcripts, qualifications, and achievements, thereby setting you apart from the other competitive applicants. Win-win!

            To gain more clarity on this concept and find exercises that will allow you to incorporate self-reflection into your college application essay writing process, do some searching online. One such website that can help is Gramma’s Jam (www.grammasjam.com). We offer private coaching for students who prefer a personalized experience, monthly workshops for students who prefer the group setting, monthly workshops for parents or family members who want to be informed and involved, and scholarships for those who need some financial assistance in this process.

            When you view the college application essay as your “write of passage,” you will not only be rewarded with a stand-out essay, you will learn so much about yourself along the way.  Now that is the secret recipe for academic and personal success!  

            In the words of novelist David Foster Wallace, “I wish you way more than luck!” 

Start Jamminā€™ On YourĀ College App Journey Now

Your junior and senior years are busy enough, so get to work on your college apps now! By starting early, you will avoid getting overwhelmed by everything else you have going on. Most importantly, you will be able to devote the time you need to reflect on what you genuinely want out of your college experience and to craft impactful and polished college apps that you are proud of!

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