Taking your college essay to the next level
- [Interviewer] Hey guys, we're here with Maura Allen, author of Write Now: Essential Tips for Standout College Essays, and she's gonna talk to us all about how to take our essays to the next level and make sure that we're providing enough depth and substance to our essays. - [Maura] So the admissions officer needs to see or read something in you that's changed. Some insight that you've had based on a circumstance or a meeting with an individual. - [Interviewer] Sure, so you're not just reporting a memorable experience, you have to talk about how that's shaped the person that you are today, how it's changed you, how you think differently now. So do you have any examples of maybe how a student started out and how maybe was more surface level and how she took things or he took things to the next level? - [Maura] Sure, so one student I worked with in the Bay area, she's a violin player. Every morning she'd wake up at 5:30 in the morning, she'd take a run, three to five miles as a way to wake up, get energized, and then she'd practice violin and go to school. - [Interviewer] Well so, I mean for me, I would think that that shows dedication and the fact that you're really prioritizing this. I mean that's impressive, and I think a lotta students would write about a sport or a passion but that doesn't really seem enough to me. I mean, is that enough? How did the student take things to the next level there? - [Maura] Right, so initially, she thought just the violin playing and the run showed, like you said, commitment and determination. But that isn't enough, there needs to be more of a story, those are just facts. So I encouraged her to dig deeper, so on her run, she would see a pattern; and different people of course have different patterns. Some people would get up in the morning and walk their dog, and she would run by this one house and she would hear opera music very early in the morning, 6:00 a.m. And then she thought to herself, again now, moving to a level two, not just the facts, but she thought, those are two worlds my world and this person's world. That are similar because we both love music but they never intersect, they never collide. So one day, she went to the neighbor's door with her violin, and said, "I hear you "play music every day, I know you love music. "Would you like me to practice for you?" And this is where it started to unfold, the older gentleman said, "I love music, "I used to play the violin, I had to sell my violin "to move to the United States to support my family. "I'm not able to play anymore." She began practicing and they created a connection or a bond. - [Interviewer] Huh, well so now it sounds like she's moving past just a gift that she has, a skill that she's acquired, now it feels kind of more like a story, I can visualize her early in the morning running down the street, seeing different lights of houses on and people all sort of doing their routine, and a very charming story of how she came over and met this man. Now, how did she then relate this back to who she is now and make it useful for her college essay purposes. - Right, so she went from the facts, to a great story, but the story's not as great as it could be because there's no reveal in it. There's no ah-ha moment of her changing her thinking, but gradually, as she continued to play music in front of this gentleman, she realized that music is really a passion of hers. Before, she thought of playing music as an obligation. She would go to competitions, she would win competitions, she would practice reluctantly, and she was very good but it just never was really in her heart, but playing to this audience of one she began to realize that music is a connector. It can create bonds between young and old, between different cultures, between literally neighbors. So that idea that music took on a different context in her mind, is the change, that's the moment where she realized that music has a deeper meaning in her own life. - [Interviewer] Yeah or even that when she was going on these runs she saw little snippets of lives that were all occurring simultaneously but never really intersected and music, she realized to her, could be that intersection where some man she probably-- - Right. - [Interviewer] Would have never talked to, she could finally talk to and make a connection with through virtue of playing music. - [Maura] Right, and to add another layer to this story, music was of interest to her long term in school and potentially as a career, but really, this moment where her mind shifted and she had a self discovery, changed her view and she became more passionate about pursuing that long term and she was able to communicate that in her essay as well. - [Interviewer] I see, so then she's also tying in potentially what she, the kind of student she might look like on a college campus. How she might be involved in music, and so an admissions officer could see this girl's clearly talented, she's dedicated, but she's also insightful. She knows why she wants to do what she does. - Right. - [Interviewer] And she could potentially be involved in this way at her school, so I think that that, I would imagine is probably important for admissions officers to be able to see and think about as well. - [Maura] Right, and that's the added benefit she discovered in these months of playing, that music is really that important to her and she would like to continue to study music and then potentially make it part of her career. So one of the important things to remember is, she didn't explicitly say, "My view of music changed." She used the story to reveal that part of herself, if you have to explicitly say it, you're creating a distance between you and your reader. - [Interviewer] Sure, I imagine they wouldn't want to read, "This changed me "in this way, that way." I mean, that's fairly obvious, yeah. - [Maura] Right, right, so start with the facts, go to level two and see where the story might take you, but then go to level three and ask yourself questions. What does this mean to me? How is this different? How did this experience change me or didn't change me? How did I think, act, or feel differently because of it? And by asking yourself those questions, you'll get an essay that goes deeper and reveals more about you, and that's exactly what the admissions team wants. - [Interviewer] Wonderful, thanks so much, Maura.