While cooped up at home during this pandemic, many high school juniors will take a stab at their first college essay, perhaps prodded by mom or dad to “do something useful!” And, yes, that would actually be wonderful — finding the time to undertake a chore that many students put off until the very end.
But here’s what would not be wonderful: writing some version of the essay How the Coronavirus Changed My Life. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s usually a bad idea to make big events the topic of your college admissions essay.
Something very similar happened in 2018 with the Montecito debris flow, and it’s perfectly understandable that something so terrifying and emotionally impactful would seem to be a great topic for a college essay, but virtually all the essays I read on this topic suffered the same flaw: they sounded generic.
In other words, they sounded as if they could have been written by anybody, rather than one particular individual.
And therein lies the single most important piece of advice for any college admissions essay writer: It doesn’t matter what you say, so long as you are the only person in the world who could have said it. It must be distinctive and particular to only you.
That’s why writing about the coronavirus is a poor choice. Literally millions of others will have had similar experiences, and it will be extremely hard to say something fresh that’s not a cliché about enduring hardship.
Why? It’s because the purpose of the college admissions essay is to help you stand out amid a field of candidates who otherwise look very similar on paper with comparable grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities.
The essay is virtually the only place that an applicant can appear as an utterly unique individual, and someone who will impact a college campus in a completely original way.
The purpose of the essay is not to highlight one or more aspects of your resume, as sadly, all too many attempt to do. Driven by insecurity, many applicants steer their essay — subtly and not so subtly — in the direction of See? Look How Smart I Am or Look at How Much I’ve Done.
Attempts like this seldom impress. Rather, they tend to have the opposite effect, diminishing the impact of what the writer has indeed accomplished.
It’s far better to highlight an ordinary aspect of one’s life, and to try to showcase your personality and unique view of the world. When a writer takes this approach, no big event crowds the center of the stage. Rather, the writer’s personality is the center of attention, which is what will make them memorable to other human beings.
In the end, that is the goal of an effective college admissions essay.
For students who are bored at home right now and would like to channel their energy productively on their college essay, log on to Laguna Blanca’s free 60-minute College Essay Webinar, 11 a.m. Thursday, April 2. Director of College Counseling Matt Struckmeyer will lead the workshop.
A former teaching fellow at Harvard, Struckmeyer has coached hundreds of students on their college essays. To learn more about the webinar, visit https://www.lagunablanca.org/news-detail?pk=1180247&fromId=260529. Open to the first 30 attendees.
Click on https://zoom.us/j/856215111 to join the Zoom Meeting (Meeting ID: 856 215 111).