Ivy Essays

Part 7 in our series, “Who Gets into Harvard?”

We’ve already covered most of the factors that contribute to a successful Ivy League college application in our ongoing series, “Who Gets into Harvard”. The final factor, and ideally the place where all of the rest comes together, is the college application essay. When it comes to this last element, students evaluating their chances of getting into a highly selective institution need to be asking these questions:

Have I successfully pulled it all together in my essay? Am I interesting?

Everyone is interesting in their own way, so the better question is—can you be interesting in writing? There is no magic formula, but the alchemy of taking personality and engagement and translating it into a 650 word written document that shares something important about the writer comes close. There is no surer way for me to ascertain someone’s chances of getting into an Ivy League college once I know about the basics (grades, rigor, scores, involvement) than to see how they write, both in general and about themselves.

Let me say up front that none of the following are interesting:

  • Substituting rap lyrics, a poem, or a list of words describing how the college makes you feel for a formal essay
  • Writing a meta-version of an essay—here I am writing my college essay, and there you are reading it
  • Comparing yourself to an inanimate object such as a bottle of soda, your home, or your favorite city

Overly long, forced metaphors and essays trying too hard to stand out inevitably take away from the very things you want them to focus on—namely, one of the actual ways in which you stand out. And the worst mistake you can make is trying to write your version of the Costco essay or some other “best college essay ever written” being shared this year on social media.

How can you tell if your college essay is successful? Unfortunately, this is probably the toughest part of your application to self-evaluate. Unlike test scores, grades, curriculum rigor, and even, to some degree, extracurricular activities, it is very difficult to assess the quality of your essay by comparing it to what others have done.

Instead, start by asking yourself if you’re being authentic and if the writing sounds like you. Ask someone who knows you well to read it—can they hear your voice in their heads as they do so? Are you offering us insight into your world, helping us understand why you do what you do or how you think or what you care about? If you have a distinguishing excellence of some kind, are we learning more about what drives that passion? Can you sum up what we learn about you in a line or two, and does that summation highlight something unique about you in a positive way?

Ultimately a great essay is a bit subjective. I have loved essays that my colleagues have not warmed to, and vice versa. But there is no denying the power of a genuine voice and a meaningful story that feels true to the writer. If you can create an application essay with those two features, you’re at least on the right track.

In our next blog, we’ll start wrapping things up with some final thoughts.

The personal essay is a critical deciding factor in the admissions process for top American universities. While strong grades and test scores are important, many students applying to the most selective schools have similar GPAs and SAT scores. The admissions essay gives you the opportunity to convey aspects of your personality and background that will set you apart from other candidates. A well-written essay will reveal more about your personal strengths, goals, and passions than can possibly be learned from the number-based components of your application.

Writing an admissions essay can be one of the most difficult parts of the application process. Even students with excellent academic backgrounds can be stumped when it comes to answering these very broad personal questions. Students may have trouble finding a place to start, coming up with a clear and cohesive structure, or staying within the very strict word limits. Many first essay drafts are vague and unfocused and thus present a weak impression of the student’s writing style and personality.

Ivy Global’s team of admissions essay consultants have been rigorously selected for their experience with the admissions essay format and their passion for writing, editing, and teaching. As graduates of top universities, including Ivy League schools, our essay experts know what components are necessary to make a personal essay stand out in the highly competitive admissions process. Our consultants will help you brainstorm a unifying theme for your essay, organize and structure your thoughts, and edit your writing to achieve a grammatically correct and consistent style that strongly conveys your unique voice.

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