College admission committees want to know who is getting into their college. It is just like anything else. You want to know who is coming to your house. Right?
GPAs and test scores helps them determine how well you are doing academically and the probability of how well you will do in college, but they also want to get to know you beyond that. They want to learn your character, your interests, like, how you spend your time outside of the classroom, how you would deal with a challenge, etc. They are interested in getting to know your personality and the life experiences you may have had up until this point. They also want to learn why you are interested in going to their college. They want to learn from your teachers or counselors their perspective on who you are as a student and human being. They can’t get all that information from numbers: GPA and test scores.
Admission to top colleges is ultra-competitive. They are many, many qualified students who are applying to top colleges—from all around the world. Colleges do not have spots for all of them. Many students have excellent grades and test scores—some perfect grades and test scores. So they have to use qualitative measures such as essays, projects and letters of recommendations to make distinctions among the many excellent candidates.
In the international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.
A perfect essay appeals to both systems. Here are two steps to write your perfect college essay.
1. Tell me a good story
Appeal to emotion, system 1. Humans are emotional. They make decisions emotionally (system 1) and then analyze them later (system 2). Engage them quickly with a power story. The vice president and dean of admission at Reed College, Milyon Trulove, says:
"I've long said storytellers own the world. Take a second to think about someone that always has a wild tale for you. Think about someone who always make you laugh. It's likely that when that person shares, you feel a personal connection. That's the way we humans work, that's the way we connect.
"If you can imagine someone in front of a room who is captivating, interesting and compelling — chances are that it's an individual that has a special skill of conveying their experiences in a chronological, engaging and compelling fashion.
"Storytellers know why they're telling a story. They know how to build the other involved characters in the minds of the audience. They know the punchline, or the takeaway message; they know when to stop telling the story, when to pause for you to catch up... they take you somewhere or someplace and, when it's time to deliver the big bang, they deliver a communal experience that leaves you feeling an affinity for them as a storyteller.
"Imagine doing that for an admission committee.”
2. Essays with a 'so what?'
After you have engaged your audience, the admission committee, emotionally with a powerful story, you have to also engage their rational mind, per Kahneman's system 2. Milyon Trulove advises:
"But, for your college essay, don't just tell your admission committee a clever story you've shared with any given 'grown-up' that has appreciated your maturity.
"You HAVE to (have to) tell us why we should care. After you write your original, well constructed essay — ask yourself "Why should they care?" If your answer isn't captured in your essay, you've more work to do."
Simple. Tell them, or better, show them why should they care. Why should it matter to them?
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