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College Application Essays: You Don’t Need to Go on An “Adventure” to Write A Great Essay

August 6, 2011

“For a Standout College Essay, Applicants Fill Their Summers” is a title of an article in the New York Times today. It’s about the extraordinary things high school students are doing to find interesting topics for their college application essays, including traveling to China and studying health care in Rwanda.

Parents send their students on these expensive adventures in the hope that it will “put them in the spotlight” when they apply to college, especially when it comes to competitive schools.

A friend of mine said, “As a mom, I think it is bad news.”

There’s nothing wrong with filling your summers with exotic adventures, or even sports camps, academic camps and volunteer work. But don’t seek out an activity because you think it will make a great college application essay.

Why? Because admissions counselors know you don’t have to travel half-way around the world to find an essay-worthy experience. They look for how students find meaning in the world, wherever they are –  babysitting for neighbors, bagging groceries, or even scooping ice cream downtown.

I recently spoke to Joanne Robertson, Assistant Director of Admissions at Quinnipiac University. For her, exotic summer experiences don’t give students an edge. She says, “As an admissions counselor, I would rather see an essay from a student who could provide a reflection on a summer job than one who sought out a ‘special’ activity just to build a resume. Bringing a creative voice to a simple activity shows more to me than just the significance of the experience.”

A college application essay is a story about you. It asks you to reflect on who you are, what makes you unique, where you’re headed, and what you have to offer.

You don’t have to go on great adventures to answer those questions. You just have to know who you are.

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