Writing the College Application Essay: Your “Audience” Awaits

I often encourage my students to think of their college application essay as a short movie starring them. Taking that analogy to the next level, a school’s Admission Directors – those hard working folks who read hundreds of essays each week – become the essay’s first, and only, audience.

It is vital, therefore, to write the essay with an eye toward pleasing your “audience.” Some ways to do that include:

1. A strong opening
Today’s popular films almost always kick off with a compelling scene or sequence. This draws the audience in and primes them for what comes next. In writing your essay, create a powerful opening (stay tuned for my blog on this subject) that will keep your “audience” on the edge of their desk chairs.

2. A riveting story
Good stories are the currency of the film industry and in some ways, they are also what drive successful essays. It doesn’t matter if it’s small (many Oscar winning films are personal and intimate), as long as the “story” involves a goal, obstacles to the goal, and a character (you) who ultimately grows and learns.

3. Emotional involvement
The best movies, even comedies and action films, have a strong emotional component. If that element is missing from your essay, rethink, rewrite, or look for another topic.

4. Surprises
The unexpected, in essays as well as movies, is always appreciated and respected. Although Admissions Directors don’t read in a darkened theater, throwing a few twists into your essay – as long as they’re truthful – can keep them from nodding off.

5. Clarity
Audiences don’t mind being challenged, in fact, they like it. But they don’t want to be confused; they expect the story to unfold in a logical manner. In revising your essay (you are revising, aren’t you?) be alert for ideas, words or sentences that are not crystal clear, and keep rewriting until they are.

6. Daring, audacity
Audiences are riveted by someone who exhibits bravery and doesn’t back down from what they believe. Of course, you don’t want to be outrageous for outrage sake, that can backfire. But if you come up with an essay concept that’s a little bold, and you’re sure you can make it work, it could distinguish your essay… and you.

7. Humor
People like to laugh, even Admission Directors. Just make sure that whatever humor you include is tasteful, on point, and legitimately funny.

8. An uplifting ending
There is a saying in Hollywood that movies are written backwards. In other words, if you’ve got a great ending, the rest of the movie will fall into place. The ending is what people remember most, what sends them out of the theater with a smile on their faces and a good feeling in their hearts. In constructing your essay, try to go for that same uplifting feeling as your essay draws to a close. First impressions last, but last impressions can help you get accepted to your first choice college.

For more personal help with the college application essay, contact Craig Heller directly at [email protected] or 818-340-1276.

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