You’ll see that the best authors ignore these fussy, fusty rules.
Rachel Toor is a creative writing professor at Eastern Washington University in Spokane.
It’s the gigantic stack in the middle that warrants discussion. Here’s a tip: Choose a topic you really want to write about. It might be your favorite book or the Pythagorean theorem. We share clothes and watch ‘The Real Housewives’ of three different cities together” does not make for a good essay.
If the subject doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to the reader. It might be why you don’t believe in evolution or how you think kale must have hired a PR firm to get people to eat it. In school, you were probably encouraged to write papers that took a side. “I love my mom even though she makes me clean my room, hates my guinea pig and is crazy about disgusting food like kale” could lead somewhere While the personal essay has to be personal, a reader can learn a lot about you from whatever you choose to focus on and how you describe it.
That’s fine in academic work when you’re being asked to argue in support of a position, but in a personal essay, you want to express more nuanced thinking and explore your own clashing emotions. One of my favorites from when I worked in admissions at Duke University started out, “My car and I are a lot alike.” The writer then described a car that smelled like wet dog and went from 0 to 60 in, well, it never quite got to 60.
Another guy wrote about making kimchi with his mom.
A tiny but specific detail like this will probably be more vivid than an entirely forced and forgettable essay on community service. The bad news: Parents, when you mess with your kids’ pure voices, you’re actually co-writing terrible college essays. So aside from ridiculously lofty vocabulary or an overly mature perspective, how do I know when a parent or another adult is likely to have written a kid’s essay? When I learned how to type in high school, the definitive rule was to leave two spaces after a period. As a former high school teacher, I have worked with hundreds of students on their college essays.
The college essay is about the true things students want the colleges to know about them that can’t be seen via grades and standardized tests. And far more egregious and dangerous: You’re teaching your children that when the stakes are high enough, it’s O. Later, as a private college essay consultant, I worked with students and parents at some top private schools before I became an admissions counselor for a small liberal arts college. Often the first draft of an essay has sentences with one space after the periods, but the next draft changes to two.
Picture this before you plop yourself down in front of your computer to compose your college application essay: A winter-lit room is crammed with admissions professionals and harried faculty members who sit around a big table covered with files.
The admissions people, often young and underpaid, buzz with enthusiasm; the professors frequently pause to take off their glasses and rub their eyes.