The Stress-Free College Essay?

College bound? Feeling stressed? A little overwhelmed? Welcome to the roller coaster ride that is the college application process. Even the calmest, most well-informed student or parent can sometimes feel a little on edge during the college admissions voyage. Don’t despair, PghPsych contributor Gina Catanzarite provides some practical tips and helpful solutions to make the college essay portion of the application a much more creative and rewarding endeavor.

In Good Health,

The Stress-Free College Essay?
by Gina Catanzarite

admissions1The end of another school year is looming and for some students, that means dreams of relaxing by the pool for a few months before returning to the high school hallways in the fall. But older teens are probably thinking further ahead to life after high school and for the majority of American teens that means going to college.

But before those students can attend college, they have to apply and these days, college applications usually include (insert overly dramatic scary music here) writing a college admissions essay.

What is it about the college admissions essay that strikes fear into the hearts of so many teens? Maybe it’s because an admissions trend study conducted by the National Association of College Admissions Counseling reports that over 62% of colleges say the college application essay or writing sample was either “considerably important” or “moderately important” in the admissions decision.  

If that’s not enough to pile on the pressure, consider how broad, abstract, or quirky some of those questions actually are! Here’s a sample:

  • Brandeis University: If you could choose to be raised by robots, dinosaurs, or aliens, who would you pick and why?
  • The University of Virginia: Make a bold prediction about something in the year 2020 that no one else has made a bold prediction about.”
  • The University of Chicago: Where is Waldo, really?

College admission process and acing the application essay.College application essay questions are generally epic in what they want you to convey. And yet, most young people write a very academic-sounding term paper—thesis, body, conclusion. Their parents read it, their guidance counselors read it, their English teachers read it—and everyone makes comments and edits until it gets distilled and even more generic than it was to begin with.

Consider these tips to write a college application essay that shines:   

  • Relate it to a deeply personal and significant experience and the life lesson you learned.
  • Use creative and critical writing techniques to relate your personal experience to a universal theme, such as courage, sense of community, rites of passage, etc.
  • Provide context, i.e. background information so the reader has a basic understanding of an unfamiliar topic.
  • Conduct research to support your opinions.

Perhaps the best advice is to take a risk and write from the heart. College application essay questions are opportunities to reveal your personal philosophies and your personality. They are meant to test your critical and your creative thinking skills, as well as your ability to make abstract connections.

Done well, the essay will reveal not only what you believe but why you believe it. And that’s exactly the kind of broad thinker and bright mind colleges like to have on their campuses!

Get a good laugh at some of these genuinely quirky college admissions questions or
read the whole survey about Factors in the Admissions Decision. Learn all about writing college application essays and other forms of opinion writing at the Luminari Teen Writer! camps I will be leading this summer.

Creatively yours,

Gina CatanzariteGina Catanzarite is Owner of Arania Productions. She is the co-author of two non-fiction books and teaches broadcast journalism at Point Park University. And Gina is an Emmy Award-winning television producer, writer, family advocate and media consultant.

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