Discover Studying Abroad

Demystifying The College Essay

Scared of those college application essays that must be written if you're applying to university abroad? Start early, write numerous drafts, and choose a topic that allows you to talk about yourself, advises University of Chicago rising freshman Hassaan Ejaz.
BY Hassaan Ejaz |   09-05-2013

As a rising high-school student, it is extremely likely that you are on the receiving end of a lot of college/university mumbo-jumbo, with all sorts of big, unfamiliar words being thrown around. Applying to colleges abroad can be like embarking on an emotional rollercoaster of confusion, apprehension, and sometimes, self-deprecation.

Most selective colleges require you to submit sometimes as many as four ‘personal essays’ along with the rest of your application. While it may sound like a daunting task – and one that takes a substantial amount of work – your essays give you an opportunity to differentiate yourself from a sea of tens of thousands of applicants.

What is the college essay?

An MIT admissions officer describes the essay as a lot like frozen yogurt: “It comes in a variety of flavors, you get to customize it, and experimenting with new flavors either yields blissful joy, or, sometimes, yucky disappointment.”

According to Yale, “The essay is not meant to be a comprehensive autobiography. It’s an opportunity for you to share with us something meaningful about yourself and your experiences.”

UChicago asks you to tell them who you are ‘in your own voice’ – and not what you think they want to hear.

The college essay, in essence, is your response to an open-ended question which has no right or wrong answer, and is supposed to offer insight into who you really are. It is an opportunity to tell the college that you’re more than an SAT score or a high-school transcript in about 500 words.

“And how exactly do I do that?” you ask

Knowing where to start is perhaps the most difficult part about writing a winning essay. Choose a topic that allows you to talk about yourself using something that’s close to your heart.  According to admissions officers at several reputed schools, most exceptional essays are written on fairly mundane topics such as sports, music, and family, to name a few.

You don’t need to have fought your way through the toughest of times, or have travelled across the globe in an attempt to attain spiritual enlightenment. Your perspective on the topic is far more important than the topic itself.

Be thoughtful, expressive, and reflective as you convey a specific idea related to your personal and intellectual life. Take some time to think about what you want the college to know about you. It is of prime importance that you be honest and genuine, because admissions officers are more than just experienced enough to spot made-up details from a mile away.

High school is a stressful period for most of us, and the Indian education system doesn’t leave much room for brainstorming essay ideas. I got around this by focusing my thoughts on my essay ideas at random times during the day. I’d think about what to write when I’d be belting out renditions of some of my favourite songs in the shower, or when I’d be playing a quick game of FIFA, or even when I was running on the treadmill at the gym.

Start early – ideally as early as May – and write numerous drafts. Set these aside for a few days, and then read them again. Writing a winning essay usually involves multiple rewrites and edits over several weeks. Be brisk, and use language economically and effectively. Ask yourself if the essay is what you wanted it to be: How well does it flow? Is it interesting?  Does it fall within the word limit? Is it written in your own voice? Does it happen to be an accurate representation of who you are?

Try to have at least one person who knows you well read your essay, but only take advice that you are comfortable taking. Needless to say, before you send it off, make sure you check spelling and grammar repeatedly. By the end of the essay-writing process, you should know your essays well enough to be able to recite them almost verbatim

As you set out on a quest to effectively ‘describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content’, ‘reflect on a time where you challenged a belief or an idea’, and in some cases, even ‘find x’, I wish you the very best of luck and leave you with a few words of advice on applying to college with the following lines from my favourite poem.

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same”

 - “If” by Rudyard Kipling

Hassaan Ejaz graduated from Modern School in 2013 and is attending The University of Chicago as a member of the Class of 2017. He spent the summer before college working with essai, a company which inspires students to write unique application essays.



Can't Read  
Enter Above Code:


Sign Up for our newsletter

Sign Up for latest updates and Newsletter