Harvard College Admissions Essays: Say What?

Looking for some college admissions essay tips? Believe it or not, but the college admission essay is more important than you think. Consider this: applicants to the best schools likely also have the best grades, the best SAT scores, or the best ACT scores. So, with such a high achieving population, they all tend to look like each other. That is – if all the college admissions committee looked at were quantitative aspects of your application. The truth is this: the qualitative aspects of your college application carries way more weight than you realize.

Enter the College Admissions Essay, but wait!

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College Admissions Essay Tips: What Are They Looking For?

Great question. Remember what I just said about the applicant pool all looking like each other? Well, that knowledge should drive what you need to highlight about you. Here are some guidelines:

  • Highlight experiences that demonstrate inner strength or upright character
  • Describe experiences that set you apart as unique from the rest of the applicant population – remember, the college or university is interested about how you will add value. So, show how you will make your 4 years at the school special and why the university will be better off for having admitted you.
  • You’ll think I’m crazy, but here we go: if you’re a female or a minority – play the game. Yup, I can’t believe I just said that. But, you can do so in a way that is not martyr-like or as if you were the victim somehow. You can show how you overcame adversity that was somewhat related to your special class. People love reading that stuff.

Let’s test my advice on the Harvard College Admission Essay Questions, which are below:

Please write an essay of 250 – 500 words on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below, and attach it to your application before submission. Please indicate your topic by checking the appropriate box. This personal essay helps us become acquainted with you as a person and student, apart from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will also demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself. NOTE: Your Common Application essay should be the same for all colleges. Do not customize it in any way for individual colleges. Colleges that want customized essay responses will ask for them on a supplement form.

  1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
  2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
  3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
  4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
  5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
  6. Topic of your choice.

Okay, let’s analyze this, but know one thing for sure: DO NOT choose topic of choice. Why? It’s kind of weird. You see, the committee wants to see uniqueness, but they also need something to compare you to. So, your response will be compared to others’ responses to the same question. Without having a base of comparison (like if you choose the topic of your choice), they won’t know what to do with you.

Moving on.

Let’s look at each question and evaluate an approach:

  1. For this question, they are looking for a glimpse into how you think and the worldview by which you see the world. If you’ve taken significant risk, what was it and what drove your thinking and what drove you make that decision? You dig?
  2. How do you think about issues – this is what they are looking for. Do you consider aspects of issues or are you selfish in your approach.
  3. What values do you hold? What’s important to you and why?

As far as that goes, the rest of the questions, I don’t believe are germane. By that I mean – focus on the first 3 questions. Remember my advice about having something to compare to? That’s why.

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