Some colleges receive over 30,000 applications for roughlyfifteen hundred spots.

Why should they choose you?

The most popular university in the country receivedmore than 70,000 applications recently.

Do you think you can write an essay that they would remember?

You have to prove to the college admissions officer what you have done to earn a spot at his university.He has thousands, tens of thousands of students clamoring for his attention. By the time he gets to yours, he’s bored, strung out on coffee, and he’s read 3040 versions of What I Learned While I Worked at the Soup Kitchen.

Do you know how to impress him?

This video is about how to prove what you have done, who you are, in your own voice, in a memorable way. Here’s a quick glance of what we’ll discuss:

1. Why the essay even matters to the admissions officer –and yes, they care, and so should you.
2. What a college admissions officer is looking for– and how you can prove that you have it.
3. We need to know where you’ve come from and how it’s impacted who you want to be. And how this is a story, and you’re the hero, so make us care about you.
4. How do you prove that you don’t want just any college, but this college. Be convincing.
5. We’re going to talk about a couple of clichés, the essays that havebeen written a thousand times, and every college admission essay officer is sick of hearing. In other words, essay topics to avoid.

Why is the college essay important? Because it’s all you’ve got left.

By the time you’re ready to apply to college the only thing left that you can change in your application is your essay, because your story is all that you have got left. Everything else is pretty much set. You’ve got your standardized test scores. You’ve already participated in all your extracurricular activities. Your class rank isn’t going to move much. So there’s not a lot left to impact besides how you tell your story.

That is one of the important things about the college essay. It gives you one last opportunity on the application to tell the admissions officer about yourself, in your own words, and that story is entirely unwritten. You still have time to make it perfect. Your college essay will not get you into college by itself, but if it becomes the deciding factor, the college essay can very well be the swing vote. So make it the most compelling case for yourself. Bring your best story to the college admissions officer, because this is your last shot.

What does the head of admissions want?

The admissions officer receives 70,000 applications a year.He sees every kind of talented student out there. The artist. The debater. The jock. The scientist. He needs to be impressed. Don’t waste his time.

The only thing that you can be sure hedoesn’t already have is you.

Your job in your college essay to help them see that you have something to offer that makes the world he lives in more compelling, more complex, more enriched, more diversified. That’s what a college admissions officer is looking for. Let’s take the smaller school, the one that gets 30,000 applications for 1500 spots. Of those 30,000 spots, easily one in five havethe grades, the athletic abilities, the artistic talent andthe civic-minded proclivities to fill those seats. So how to get from 6000 to 1500? It comes down to who builds a community that creates a real university experience. Just having a group of talented students is not what brings in tens of thousands of applications. It’s who brings a diversity of tastes and beliefs about politics, the arts, religion, class, gender, urban development, military deployment, etc., that creates the environment, in the classroom and beyond, that makes a good university a great one. Individuals that are more than just smart or artistic, but breed creative thought and spurs spontaneous debate. You know — college stuff. Students who are incredibly engaging and who can create and sustain powerful dialogue. You need to articulate through your essay that you bring with you a set of experiences and opinions and ideas that are particular to you, that can’t be bought off the street anywhere else.

Remember that your grades, your test scores, your extracurricular activities have already established that you’re smart, you’re athletic, you’re musical, whatever. But so are 6000 other people. So how do you keep from being whittled out when they start to carve down to 1500? This is when you have to rely on the essay to show that you can bring something different to the conversation. You can be the guy or girl that people want to stay up late arguing with about consent theory – even if you’re not quite sure what that is. You have to be someone interesting. But interesting is really, really hard in a crowd of tens of thousands.

So how do you do it?

You have a great story. You have the best story. Ever.


You show where you come from, and demonstrate how that’s impacted where you’re going. In the Story of You.

College is about the next chapter in your life. Transitioning from being somebody’s kid to being somebody. From taking the lessons you’ve learned so far to applying them to a goal you pursue over the next four years. That doesn’t mean that you have to have it all figured out, but you have to at least have the self-awareness to realize that you don’t have it all figured out.

Ok, ok, what does all that mean?

It means – you need to tell the admissions officer a story. Not a book report, not a thesis. A story. There’s a hero. And good things happen to him, and awful things happen. And sometimes he saves people and sometimes he gets the crap beat out of him and sometimes we can’t quite tell if he succeeded or if it was a draw, because it’s life, and that’s what life is like. Because the story is the story of your life, and the hero is you. And the events you’re going to choose to tell are the events that impacted your life.

Yes, it’s a memoir, essentially. But just because the story happened in the past doesn’t mean you have to make it sound passive. Use active verbs. Tell it with strong emotion; fill it with suspense. If this is the story that you are choosing to illustrate a life-changing moment, that changed your path in life, determined your major, helped create who are . . . in other words, if you’re telling it, it better be worth telling; and if it’s worth telling, there better be some huge moments. Show us. And don’t tell us – show us. Don’t say – I was so nervous. Show us. I realized that I was trembling with cold and yet there was sweat running down the sides of my face and I couldn’t feel my feet. We need to feel for this hero, and care about what happens to him, and want to read all the way to the end to see if he makes it, so that we understand why he – you – is the person he is today. Remember, the admissions officer has thousands of essays to choose from,, but if he can’t stop reading the 5061st essay he’s read that season, well, that’s a pretty good sign.

Use your own voice; tell the truth about your history. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t edit it – no one wants to know every wart and pimple! Smooth the rough edges a little, sure. You don’t have to sound like you went on Oprah and did a tell-all. But don’t try to manufacture some slick, canned version of yourself. Be sincere. Explain how certain critical moments in your life influenced decisions that you have made about your future. Many doctors have witnessed people in their own lives fight disease. Many lawyers come from backgrounds where someone suffered injustice. No one had it completely easy. Privilege doesn’t mean easy. Life without drama doesn’t mean easy. Don’t make up hardship, for God’s sake, at best it makes you a bad person and at worst the admissions officer will see through it and know you’re a bad person. Just own it. You were fortunate not to fight for things, you’re grateful for it, you didn’t take it for granted, you took advantage of the opportunities you were given and now you’re here. Done. But everyone has their crap. Everyone. And it builds who you are. And everyone has their joy. Everyone. And it builds who you are. So tell it, and tell it well. We all like happy stories, too.

The important thing is, you’ve shown up here, at the doorstep of the college admissions officer, with your application packet in hand, asking to be let in. He says, “Why should I let you in?”and you should be able to look back at the long road behind you that has led to these seventeen years and point to what you did. It might be specific moments. It may be certain choices that you made. Or things that you should have done. It might be a sickening gratitude that it wasn’t hard for you at all . . .but that you want to make it easier for others. Maybe there were some close near misses. It could be big regrets or minor victories. But you have got to be able to articulate how you got from there to here and stand up in your college essay in a clear voice and tell your adventures and make sure we cheer you on and see exactly how you landed where you did and why they made you the person you want to become.

Do you want this college? Or just anywhere? Be specific. Don’t tell schools in California that you like the weather, or an Ivy League college that it has a good reputation. Tell that school that they have a lower faculty to student ratio in their physics department than any other school in the top twenty ranked universities in the U.S. (if that’s true – and if you want to be a physics major). Do not just feed a line to a school about why you want to be there. You need to make them feel special. You need to convey that your selection process was thoughtful. They’re spending an awful lot of time deciding about whether they want you. Shouldn’t you put in at least a little time deciding if you really want to be there? It is four years of your life, after all. Learn something about the faculty. Do not learn something about the weather. Learn something about the coursework in your intended major. Do not quote the statistics of the basketball team record. Do learn the school’s philosophy on a liberal arts education – and know if they are a liberal arts institution. You get where we’re going here, right? You don’t have to become an expert, you don’t even have to be fluent, but you have to be conversational.

Do not fall victim to clichés.
When you do choose your story, you may choose almost any story you want. Almost. But there are a few you just can’t. And you just can’t because no matter how much it might seem like the story of what changed your life, basically, they’re just too played. Too many people have used them too many times that they just don’t ring genuine any more. I know, I know – in your case, it actually is legitimate.For example, the sports hero story – what you learned about life by being the team captain. Everyone learns something by being part of a team, and hard work, and making it to the state championship. The problem is, that story is not the one in 70,000 story. Remember – you need to be the story thatno one has ever told. And that one has just been read too many times. Like, way, way, too often. Another one that just can’t be told again–the time about learning how fortunate you are to live in America or live a comfortable life in a certain part of America because of time spent with those who have less than you do. This one has two problems. One, it’s got the same problem of not being different enough. Two, it can sound a little bit entitled. Did it really take until you were 17 to realize you took for granted all that you had? Ew. That could really come off the wrong way – so sheltered and naïve – are you ready to be with a group of students from a huge range of backgrounds? The risk with any of these is just the challenge they have of not being fresh enough, not being something where the officer remembers 15,000 essays later, “hey, remember the essay about thatguy . . .I really liked him . . .”

And don’t forget . . .

It might seem basic, but . . .you can’t afford to write a great story and have it undermined by things like poor grammar or misspellings or punctuation errors. So spell check. Then read it line by line. Then read it backwards (yes, really, it’s an editor’s trick that makes you look at each word instead of letting you read, and then skim). Let someone else read it and also check. Don’t just use spellcheck. That won’t catch the their-there-they’re or your-you’re problem. Seriously. You can’t work this hard on telling an incredible story and then undo it all with silly errors. You’ll leave the admissions officer to draw one of two conclusions – that you really don’t know how to spell or you were too lazy to bother to proof the paper. Nightmare!

Also, have someone else read your story, twice preferably. Some people like to have a friend or relative read it. Some prefer a teacher, coach or school counselor. The best person is someone who knows you well, who won’t judge you, and won’t try to convince you to write a different story. Not a different story, as in tell an entirely different tale, a different story as in tell it differently, change the facts here and there. This story is written for one person – the college counselor. It isn’t homage to your grandfather. It’s not a thank you note to your English teacher. It’s your story. Stay true to it. Get another pair of eyes on it, but a pair that will make it better, not different. So be sure you trust it to someone who will support your story and read how to help you enhance that version.

And lastly — breathe. This is your story. You know it. After all, you were there when it happened.

Good luck.