Dec. ’16 Information and Announcements

Read this great advice from Mr. Barr about writing your college essay!!!

This past year I attended the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) in San Diego, CA. One of the session topics led by college admissions directors, from some of the most selective colleges in the country, was about the college essay. Below are my notes and takeaways from the presentation.

The Top 5 Admissions Director Tips:

1) “Just give us one place, one time, one moment. The key is to show genuine passion, commitment and that they have what it takes to survive at the school.”

2) “Don’t try to make this the essay that I remember at the end of year. Just make it the best story you can tell.”

3) “I think sometimes students feel that because they haven’t found the cure for cancer they have nothing to share. Life is truly lived in the smaller moments”

4) “This is your interview. Let me know who you really are. I like it when I can hear a student’s voice.”

5) “What are we looking for? We are creating a class. We look at numbers, grades and test scores. But there’s more to it. We are trying to put a face with all of this information.”

It’s also very important to keep in mind the following admissions director quote:

“By the time the application comes to us, many of them have gone through so many hands that the essays are sanitized. I wish I saw more of a thoughtful voice of a 17 year-old.”

While it’s great to have teachers, parents, adults etc. help review your essay, the college wants to hear YOUR voice and not something that you think “looks and sounds better.” They want to hear from you without others putting their own voice or the voice you think they want to hear.  There are no gimmicks as it’s all about the process. They want a story about the student and providing a glimpse into the student’s world outside of grades/scores/courses. Don’t reiterate what they already know. A strong English class essay does NOT mean it is a well done college essay. The audience is different, the style is different and the span of time the reader has to read the essay is different. Be concise and be student focused.

Still stuck on getting started with your essay?

Tip 1: What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Think traits, not accomplishments. Students need to know what they want to share before they find a story that illustrates that trait. Tell a story.

Tip 2: Framing Buzz words (passion, leadership, initiative) using passion as an example: “Ask your students to tell you what they care about. Where do they spend most of their time? That leads to stories that illustrate passion.” and “I ask each of my students, ‘tell me what you love above everything else; that’s your passion.’”

Tip 3: Get Accurate Info: There is so much conflicting information on the web, in books, and in magazines that it is difficult for students to understand the essays’ role in the application package. Beware of gimmicks, shortcuts, and anyone who says they have the “secrets.”
“The essay is not a movie trailer, something trying to get someone’s attention so they will go see the main story. It is the main story.”


Daniel Barr
Director of College Counseling
Innovation Academy Charter School

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