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How To Approach The College Essay When Writing Isn’t Your Strong Suit

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So you’re not about to declare a Creative Writing major and your dream has never been to win a Pulitzer prize. The words don’t come naturally to you and you have trouble transforming your ideas into eloquent sentences. You might find yourself working harder in English and relaxing in Math and Computer Programming classes (in which you naturally excel). If this sounds like you, the solution is here.

First of all, let’s relieve some pressure. Admissions doesn’t expect professional-level essays from students who excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and have to work extra hard in Language Arts. Your personal statement should be reflective of who you are as a person and a student. It needs to be honest and insightful, not a masterpiece worthy of the New Yorker. That said, you should still do your best! You might even surprise yourself.

Believe it or not, math and writing have a lot in common: they both deal with formulas. Figuring out which one will work best for you is a great place to get started.

If you’re an algebra or geometry type…

You can start by looking at your essay as whole: What will it all add up to? Once you know the final answer, or main message, you can start playing around with your variables (a.k.a. the details of your story). Ask yourself: What are you trying to communicate? What do you want admissions to know about you when they put down your essay? What makes you different from other people? Maybe it’s a personality quirk or passion, or it could be some unique aspect of your upbringing. If you want, you could think about it as a proof. What evidence can you draw from your life to show (and not tell) admissions that you are the the special, talented person you claim to be. (And by the way, we know you’re special and talented, but you should expect admissions officers to be skeptical!)

If you’re more into science labs…

Make yourself a checklist! Write down what you’re hoping your essay will communicate in a few sentences or bullet points. Having a list while you’re drafting will help you to keep track of which points you’ve included and which ideas you still need to expand upon. It also feels excellent to cross things off a list! Just make sure the goals you create for your essay do more than tell a story – you have to make sure the story reflects something about you. Don’t be afraid to tell admissions exactly what the story says about you in your conclusion either. You wouldn’t hand in a math test without complete numerical values with their associated remainders or labels, would you?

And if you consider yourself more of an engineer or designer…

Make an outline or blueprint for your essay. (This is also a great next step to the algebra approach.) You can create a formula for the sequence of events and information . Do you want to create suspense by starting at the end and then flashing back to the beginning and the middle? Do you want to make sure every paragraph ties back to an overarching theme? If you have a clear idea, but don’t know how to put it into action, an outline will give you a roadmap to get started.

If you’re applying with a major in mind that is not writing-intensive, then don’t fret so much about being the next F. Scott Fitzgerald in your application essay, focus on telling a story that is unique to you. And as always, if you want us to take a look, we’re here to help.

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