The powerful tools in this invaluable resource equip students with the skills to write successful entrance essays for top-notch universities. The strengths and weaknesses of 50 application compositions from Ivy League schools, as well as Caltech, Duke, MIT, Stanford, and University of Chicago, are analyzed in detail, highlighting techniques to emulate and mistakes to avoid.
|Edition description:||Fifth Edition|
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About the Author
Gen Tanabe and Kelly Tanabe are the authors of 14 books including The Ultimate Guide to America's Best Colleges, The Ultimate Scholarship Book, and How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay. They tour the country as speakers on college planning and live in Belmont, California.
Read an Excerpt
25 Essay Mistakes that Guarantee Failure
For every open slot at an Ivy League college, there are 10 to 12 eager applicants vying for it–and you’re one of them. On paper, most applicants appear very similar. All are well qualified academically with high grades and test scores and solid involvement in extracurricular activities.
Imagine the admissions officer who must choose which of these well-deserving applications to accept. How will he or she make the decision? Often, it’s the essay. The essay is the one chance for you to share a piece of yourself that is not encapsulated in the dry numbers and scores of the application. It is your opportunity to demonstrate why you’d be a perfect fit at the college, how you’d contribute to the student body, and why the college should accept you over those other 11 applicants.
The essay is also the one part of your application that you have complete control over. You can write it the night before it’s due and turn in a piece that is half-baked, or you can spend a little time on the essay and turn in one that can set you apart from the competition.
The truth is that you don’t have to be a good writer to create a successful admissions essay. Nor do you need to have survived a life changing event or won a Noble Prize. Writing a successful admissions essay for an Ivy League college is actually much simpler.
The secret is that any topic can be a winner but it all depends on your approach. If you spend the time to analyze your subject and can convey that quality of thought that is unique to you through words, you’ll have a powerful essay. It doesn’t have to be beautifully written or crafted as the next great American novel. At its core the essay is not a “writing test.” It’s a “thinking test.” So you do need to spend the time to make sure that your thoughts are conveyed correctly on paper. It may not be pretty writing but it has to be clear.
So how do you do this? While we can give you tips and pointers (which is what you’ll read in the analysis section following every essay) the best method is to learn by example. You need to see what a successful end product looks like. While there is no single way to produce a winning essay, as you will read, there are some traits that successful essays share. You’ll learn what these are by reading the examples in this book as well as the interviews with admissions officers. Then you can write a successful essay that is based on your own unique experiences, world view, way of thinking, and personal style.
Why are admissions essays so important to getting into Ivy League colleges? At their most basic level, essays help admissions officers to understand who you are. While grades, test scores, and academic performance can give the admissions officers an estimate on how prepared you are to handle the academic rigors of college, the essay offers the only way they can judge how your background, talents, experience, and personal strengths come together to make you the best candidate for their school. For you, the applicant, the admissions essays offer the best opportunity to share who you are beyond the dry stats of your academic record. It’s kind of amazing actually. You start with a blank sheet of paper and through careful selection, analysis, and writing, you create a picture of yourself that impresses the admissions officers and makes them want to have you attend their school.
Ultimately, this book is designed to help you create a successful essay that gets you accepted. It will guide you toward writing that essay by sharing with you the successes of others who have written to gain admission to Ivy League colleges as well as other highly selective schools such as MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Duke, and the University of Chicago.
If you’re like most students, you would like to know the magic formula for writing an admissions essay. Although we would love to be able to tell you, unfortunately, no such formula exists. Writing is so individual and the options so limitless that it’s impossible to develop a combination that will work for every essay. However, this doesn’t mean that we’re going to send you off with laptop in hand, without some guidance. Throughout this book you are going to see the “right way” to do things.
We thought it would be useful to start off with a few common mistakes that other students have made. You’ll want to avoid these. In fact, some of these mistakes are so bad that they will almost guarantee that your essay will fail. Avoid these at all costs!
1. Trying to be someone else. This may sound very obvious, and well, it is. But you’d be surprised at how many students don’t heed this simple piece of advice. A lot of students think that they need to be who the admissions officers want them to be; but, in reality, the admissions officers want you to be you. They aren’t looking for the perfect student who is committed to every subject area, volunteers wholeheartedly for every cause, plays multiple sports with aptitude, and has no faults. Instead, they want to learn about the true you. Present yourself in an honest way, and you will find it much easier to write an essay about your genuine thoughts and feelings.
2. Choosing a topic that sounds good but that you don’t care about. Many students think that colleges seek students who have performed a lot of community service, and it is true that colleges value contributions to your community. However, this doesn’t mean that you must write about community service, especially when it’s not something that has played a major role for you. The same holds true for any other topic. It’s critical that you select a topic that’s meaningful to you because you will be able to write about the topic in a complete and personal way.
3. Not thinking before writing. You should spend as much time thinking about what you will write as actually putting words on paper. This will help you weed out the topics that just don’t go anywhere, determine which topic has the greatest pull for you, and figure out exactly what you want to say. It can help to talk yourself through your essay aloud or discuss your thoughts with a parent, teacher, or friend. The other person may see an angle or a flaw that you do not.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 25 Essay Mistakes that Guarantee Failure 1
Chapter 2 Ivy League Admissions Officer Q&A 13
Chapter 3 Academic Passion 21
"Bacon" Mariam Nassiri 21
"Beyond Plug-and-Chug Math" Anonymous 24
"A Different Kind of Love" Oana Emilia Butnareanu 26
"From Flaubert to Frisbee" Aditya Kumar 29
"Raising the Bar" Anonymous 32
Chapter 4 Books/Literature 35
"Rosencrantz and Guildenstem" Fareez Giga 35
Chapter 5 Career 39
"Puzzles" by Anonymous 39
"Addressing Injustices" Mathew Griffin 42
"My Unpopular Decision" Shiv M. Gaglani 44
"Healing Beyond Borders" Mathew Griffin 46
"Scientific Sparks" Ariela Koehler 48
"Researching Cancer" Anonymous 50
Chapter 6 Entrepreneurship 53
"The Computer Doctor" Mathew Griffin 53
Chapter 7 Challenges 57
"Unshakable Worth" Sarah Langberg 57
"No Longer Invisible" Angelica 60
"Power of People" Suzanne Arrington 63
"Self Mind" Timothy Nguyen Le 66
"A Summer of Stem Cells" Ariela Koehler 69
"All Worth It" by Anonymous 72
Chapter 8 Community Service 75
"Music from the Heart" by Anonymous 75
"Precious Planet" Pen-Yuan Hsing 77
"Cuddle Buddies" Anastasia Fullerton 80
"Best Reader" Manika 82
Chapter 9 Family 87
"Box of Chocolates" Alex Volodarsky 87
"Dear Santa" Anonymous 91
"Lessons from the Immigration Spectrum" Anonymous 93
Chapter 10 Heritage and Identity 97
"Heritage" Anonymous 97
"Abuelo" Angelica 100
"Anything Goes" Jean Gan 102
"Strength from Family Struggles" Anonymous 104
Chapter 11 Humor 109
"Exit Door" Fareez Giga 109
"Crime Scene Report" Lauren Sanders 111
Chapter 12 An Influential Person 115
"John Nash" Jonathan Cross 115
"Then and Now: How the Perseverance of a Working, Single Mother Molded the Persona of her Chinese-American Daughter" Lisa Kapp 118
Chapter 13 Issues 123
"Sustainable Development in South Africa" Steve Schwartz 123
"A Young Voice for Seniors" Ariela Koehler 126
Chapter 14 Leadership 129
"Birthing a Business" Jason Y. Shah 129
"Beyond Dictionary Definitions of Leadership" Victoria Tomaka 132
Chapter 15 Personal Growth 137
"Beauty" Anonymous 137
"Keeping up with the Beat of the Drum" Shreyans C. Parekh 140
"Hurricane Transformations" Jason Y. Shah 142
"The House on Wellington Avenue" Jackie Liao 145
Chapter 16 Talent 149
"A Dramatic Coup" Fareez Giga 149
"Music as My Second Language" Jean Gan 150
"My Bedroom" Fareez Giga 153
"A Special Performance" Anonymous 155
Chapter 17 Travel 157
"Extra Page" Lauren Horton 157
"Looking Beyond the Castle" Brian Aguado 160
Chapter 18 Vignette 163
"Polar Bears" Lauren Horton 163
"Moving" Laura V. Mesa 165
Chapter 19 Why Our College 169
"Exploring Life's Intricacies" Mathew Griffin 169
"Leveraging Potential" Cameron McConkey 171
"Inspiration from an Energy Conversion Machine" Anonymous 174
Chapter 20 Wait List Letter 177
"Wait List Supplement" Pen-Yuan Hsing 177
Chapter 21 Advice on Topics from Ivy League Students 181
Chapter 22 Advice on Writing from Ivy League Students 199
Chapter 23 What I Learned from Writing the Essay 215
About the Authors 230
What People are Saying About This
About Authors Gen and Kelly Tanabe
“As admission officers look for more subtle ways to make fine distinctions among so many qualified applicants, the personal statement, or college essay assumes growing importance. This book can help students gain the necessary edge that will make their applications stand out. Gen and Kelly Tanabe are nationally recognized experts in every facet of the college application process. They have written several books on the topic and blend humor, organization and specific real life examples with a highly readable style to assure your success.”
David Miller, Director of College Counseling, Stevenson School
“I would like to extend my greatest appreciation to your “Accepted” publication. I recently applied to Cornell University. I read your book from cover to back, wrote an essay about “Snorkeling in Okinawa” (which most people criticized), and got ACCEPTED to Cornell. Thank you very much for your help, and I’ll be sure to refer this book to anyone applying to college.”
“If you’re struggling with your essays, the Tanabes offer some encouragement.”
College Bound Magazine