Lesson – Develop Your Essay Writing Strategy
In the video, Damian Lee, a first-year Northeastern University Torch Scholar and $25,000 SallieMae 'Bridging the The Dream' Scholarship recipient, used his story as the core foundation of his essay.
Below is an excerpt from Raigon Wilson's essay, who told a very different type of story.
Like any other day, I stepped off the bus, hurried up the tall stack of steps, pushed through the revolving doors, flashed my employee badge, waved to Ms. Fields, and walked through the large lobby. I could only hear my footsteps as they reverberated through the tall atrium. I paused a moment, as I always do, to take in the white, airy expanse of the museum and watch the sun slowly seep through the skylights. After my morning ritual I strolled down one of several ramps that wind from one floor to the next and entered the room where my coworkers and I meet.
Both essay approaches worked, with Damian being selected as a Northeastern University Torch Scholar and receiving a full scholarship offer from Bates College. Raigon was offered admission to the Kings College of London, Cornell, UNC-Chapel Hill, and received a full scholarship to Howard University, where she completed her degree on-time and debt free.
Lesson:Develop your essay writing strategy. Hopefully, you took many notes as you viewed the videos and read the resources presented in 'The Writing Process' Lesson. Review your notes as you now formulate your strategy:
- Review Your Profile: As you review your profile, is there anything that needs to be explained in your essay? Carefully consider the following examples:
- If you received a low grade or a disastrous semester during high school, your essay is your opportunity to explain what happened, the obstacles you encountered, and how you responded to the challenges.
- If you have a learning or physical disability, your essay provides an opportunity to share the challenges encountered, strategies devised, and successes experienced which illuminates your grit and determination.
- If you have experienced frequent displacement as experienced in military families, homeless families, or having grown up in foster care, your essay provides an opportunity to share the unique experiences, coping mechanisms, and strategies implemented to adjust to changing situations, new people, and new school environments.
- If you have grown up in a rural community, been home schooled, in a migrant family, or in an urban poverty, your essay provides an opportunity to tell your story and reveal your strengths, determination, perseverance, and fortitude to overcome circumstances beyond your control.
- Understand the Institutional Mission: As was mentioned in the previous Lesson, if you engaged in thorough and thoughtful college research, then you should have insight into the institutional mission of each of the colleges to which you will be applying for admission. This perhaps, is the great challenge to submitting a single essay to the Common Application. You are forced to identify a theme that best responds to what are likely to be varying institutional missions. As best as you can, know who you are (i.e., race, gender, personality, socioeconomic background, academic performance, passions, gifts and talents, and challenges). Identify the elements of who you are that are most aligned with the type of students the college is seeking (e.g., future donors, civic and socially conscious, leadership, student athletes, stronger representation from lower-income families, cultural diversity, and even gender diversity in such programs as engineering for women and nursing for men).
- Choose Your Prompt: Choose the writing prompt that will allow you to tell the story that you need to tell—the story that makes connections to the institutional mission or highlights the elements that reflect the type of student to whom the college is looking to offer admission.
- Non-cognitive Variables: Many colleges and scholarship providers review essays against what are referred to as non-cognitive variables. These variables suggest a student’s potential for college success beyond grades and standardized test scores. Incorporating these variables will strengthen your essay for those reviewers. The variables are:
- Realistic Self-Appraisal
- Long-Range Goals
- Strong Support Person
- Nontraditional Learning
Narrative: When you are ready to begin the first draft of your college essay, go to the 'Module 14 – Narrative: My College Essay' page of your narrative document and begin writing the first draft of your essay. As you write your first draft, return to this lesson and use the following review process to guide your efforts:
The Essay Review Process:
- Critical Analysis: As you read through the draft of your essay, underline each line that reflects one or more of these non-cognitive variables. For example, a line where you write about something you led (Leadership) or a line where you mention a parent, coach, counselor, or teacher who provided support (Strong Support Person), or a line where you describe your future goals (Long-Range Goals), or a line where you acknowledge strengths, weaknesses, or obstacles you have overcome (Realistic Self-Appraisal). Place the number of the corresponding variable (i.e., 1 for Self-Concept, 2 for Realistic Self-appraisal, etc.) next to the line so that you are aware of how many times each non-cognitive variable is reflected in your essay.
- Critical Review: Work with your critical reviewer to craft your story. Do not overly concern yourself with an editorial review until you effectively tell your story and ensure that your essay has artistic merit.
- Mission Review: Review your college research and discuss the missions of each of the colleges to which you will be submitting your essay. Does your story effectively reflect the type of student they to which they are likely to extend an offer of admission?
- Editorial Review: Work with an English teacher, counselor, or the person whom you have identified for your editorial review to ensure that your essay has technical merit.
- Rewrite, Review, Rewrite: Continue to rewrite, review, and rewrite your essay without regard to word count. A comprehensive, well-written essay of 1,000 words or more will serve as your “Master Essay.”
- Periodic Review:Review your Master Essay periodically to strengthen or update based on your experiences, achievements, and activities.
- Finalize Your Essay: Reduce the word count of your essay to meet the college or scholarship application guidelines. Engage in a final review to ensure that you effectively responded to each of the writing prompts.
- Final Review: After confirming that your essay has effectively responded to the writing prompts and meets the word-count guidelines, compare your essay to your résumé and letters of recommendation to ensure that you have effectively connected your experiences (as reflected in your Profile and on your résumé), and that your story is supported by your letters of recommendation.