Franklin & Marshall College president Daniel R. Porterfield offers some advice for high school seniors dealing with “college mania”. His thoughts on how to approach the college application essay seem particularly insightful.
… write an application essay that’s so true to you that you’ll want to read it again in ten years as a snapshot of where you were at age 18. What experiences have shaped you? What questions obsess you? What people inspire you? How do you want to give and grow in college?
Approaching the essay this way may be a helpful tactic for applicants, but the piece matters most for its value to you at one of life’s turning points. And, as I’ve learned from my own applications for schools and jobs, when we honestly and authentically present ourselves and then don’t get selected, it doesn’t feel so bad. In fact, we’re often left with a strong sense of personal integrity.
I believe it’s true that most essay readers can tell if an application essay is authentic and genuinely reveals a student’s perspective. So the advice to “put it in your own words” makes sense. Thus the challenge sometimes becomes how a teacher or parent can help in editing an essay without changing the author’s voice. The first time I tried helping with my kid’s essay, I found myself quickly falling into the trap of obliterating his message and inserting what I thought he should be saying. I learned my lesson, and later I mainly left any editing to his guidance counselor, who seemed to know the right balance between minor corrections and sweeping modifications.