Three: Short Essays
Some schools require you to write
a series of short essays rather than submit a single personal
statement. If this is the case for you, then you should consider
the impact that your essay set will have as a whole. You need
to balance the structure and content of the set as much as
you do within each essay individually. Yet, with these challenges
come several advantages. More essays means more opportunity
to sell yourself. Multiple essays give you ample space to
do justice to all the different areas of your life, avoiding
the pitfall of cramming too many points into one essay. And,
you can take more risks being creative in one essay, while
providing other traditional essays, thus appealing to readers
with different tastes.
When you are required to answer
multiple questions, there is often a strict word limit for
each answer. But even though each essay is short, each one
requires as much attention as long essays. The best way to
approach a short essay is to write a regular, full-length
essay and then cut it down. Let yourself write as long as
you feel inspired, without time limits or length constraints.
After you have the ideas on paper, go back and look for the
pieces of gold buried under all of the words. Begin by reducing
the introduction and the conclusion from one paragraph to
one sentence each. Choose only the clearest, most direct parts.
Some short-answer questions ask
for lists of activities, jobs, or honors. There are two approaches
to answering such a question: the list and the paragraph.
For each, provide complete information about the items you
are listing, following the same format for each list. Include
the activity, your involvement, and the time commitment. Make
it clear that your activities have involved responsibility
and effort. And don't worry about the number of activities
you list -- when it comes to quality, less is often more.
We have stressed in numerous
places throughout this course the importance of proofing your
essays and getting feedback. While most applicants are stringent
about taking this step after writing individual essays, some
forget to apply the same advice to their essay set as a whole.
Before you send in your application, assess the impression
that your essays will make when taken together.
- Are my main points evident?
- Are there redundancies
or apparent contradictions between essays?
- Is a coherent image presented
throughout the essays and does each essay contribute
to the same image?
- Is a consistent voice
and style used throughout the essays? Does it sound
as though they were written by the same person?
- Does the essay set support
the impression that is made in the rest of the application?
For examples of short essays,
Essays included from Georgetown, Duke, Dartmouth, and Harvard.
ESSAYS THAT WILL GET YOU INTO COLLEGE, by Amy Burnham, Daniel
Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan.
Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman. Reprinted by arrangement
with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.