My First Impression Of College Essay

This past week back at the U of A, I've been noticing how college freshmen are so obviously college freshmen. They wear lanyards, spend hours picking out their first day of school outfit, and cheer out wrong names of players at football games. While I find all this amusing, I also totally remember the excitement, anxiousness and remarkable amount of cluelessness that comes with being a brand spankin' new college freshman.

My first semester of college was certainly an experience. And I use the word "experience" in the way that Randy Pausch used it in his famous Last Lecture, where he said that "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted." The first semester of my freshman year of college was a whole bunch of not getting what I wanted. Not getting things that I applied for. Not fitting into the group of people that I wanted to be friends with. Not having any of the guys that I was interested in be interested back. Not achieving the grades I wanted (and kind of assumed I would get). That's just a whole lot of experience right there. But as Randy Pausch also said about experience in his Last Lecture, "experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer." I was able to learn from my first semester of frosh year, and have a very successful and enjoyable second semester -- and I'm hoping to keep using my experiences to improve and grow as a student and person.

And since experience is probably the most valuable thing to offer college freshmen (except for free food because free food always wins), here are some things I learned/wished I would have realized during my first semester of college.

Just stop with this whole lanyard business.

Lanyards aren't even that convenient when it comes down to it. There are actually wallets with little key holders and clasps on them, which are infinitely more convenient than lanyards will ever be.

Stop trying so hard to be part of a group that you don't even truly fit in with.

Yeah, that group of people that you met at orientation just seems super awesome and cool! But give it a couple of weeks, and you'll see that you don't have much to relate to them over. Yet you still try so hard to be a part of the group. You feel left out when you see Facebook photos of events that they had that you weren't invited to. You try to make conversation with them, but you realize that you don't have too much in common except for loving One Direction. And as impossible as it seems, talking about Zayn's hair or Harry's tattoos all day every day gets old. Instead of being hell-bent on being BFFs with the first people you meet, try to branch out to new people, or remember to keep in contact with friends you had in high school.

Get self-motivated.

During my first semester of college, I spent a lot time trying to get myself motivated, listening to inspirational music and reading articles on study tips. But I actually spent very little time being motivated and working hard. I didn't want to start studying or doing homework until I felt fully inspired. Which meant that very little work actually got done. During my second semester, I learned that you just have to dive right into working hard. You can't wait till you feel fully ready. Because when do you ever feel fully ready for anything? Like basically never. I'm pretty sure I leave my apartment every morning rushing and feeling like I must have forgotten something.

Second semester, you'll come to love doing work in coffee shops and libraries. You'll learn to love working hard. You don't need any outside sources to convince you to want to work hard; you'll want to work hard for yourself.

It'll get better.

The campus won't feel so unfamiliar. Your homework will feel much doable and even possibly enjoyable. Your time management skills will get better. It just takes some time. You want to just be able to hit the ground running. But you'll first have to learn to walk. Yeah, the first semester is a struggle, but a worthwhile one that teaches you a whole lot about yourself.

During the first semester, it feels like you should be excited to be in college, but you're just not. You're constantly confused by people who say "I love college" and "College is the best time of your life." But give it a few months. You'll come to really love where you're at. You'll believe that your campus is beautiful, and you'll constantly refer to the University of Arizona as the best university EVER. You'll find a group of friends who you can really talk to and not stress about fitting in with. And you'll hate the thought of being away from college and its endless opportunities and freedom.

So, even though my first semester of my frosh year was just four months straight of not getting what I wanted, it was an experience I wouldn't trade. And it's an experience that I offer to current college freshmen to learn from. But, even more valuable than my lessons learned, is your own experience. Everyone has a different adjustment to college. Maybe you're the one who can and will hit the ground running. Or maybe you're like me, and you just need to learn to be patient. So, even if you feel like you're not getting what you want out of college, just realize that it is an experience for you to learn and grow from. Because this is just the beginning.

For most students it is a challenge trying to figure out what to highlight in a college application essay. Should you focus more on clubs, sports, and extracurriculars, or would an impressive list of academic achievements be better?

Believe it or not, your future school is probably dealing with the same questions. Grade inflation means that it can be difficult to differentiate students by their academic achievements alone, and most good students also have a wealth of extracurricular activities that make the job even harder. As a result, colleges are increasingly looking to your essay for a better idea of who you are.

This makes it all the more important to get your essay right—but it can be daunting when it feels like every word is important. We asked our admissions experts what they usually look for, and came up with the following dos and don’ts for a great college essay.

DO:

Write for your audience. Most students apply to around eight schools, but make the mistake of using the same essay for each. Every school has a different set of values and characteristics, and you need to show admissions officers that you have them too—so tailor your response!

Take note when prompted. Some essay questions are open-ended and allow you to choose your topic, but when a school asks a specific question, make sure you answer it. Do your research and think about how you can use the topic to showcase your own experiences.

Use examples. You might say you want to run your own business one day, but statements like this are much more powerful if you can give examples of how you are progressing towards your goals. Link statements to examples wherever you can, and then further link these to your choice of program and school.

Be passionate and heartfelt. Give the admissions committee a reason to be excited about having you on their campus. Your future college wants talented students, but it is just as important to them that they are engaged—so show them what motivates you and how it will transfer to your degree.

Take your time: Very few people produce their best work under time pressure, so make sure you take breaks to give yourself a chance to refocus and gain a new perspective on your writing. You should also have someone else take a look at your work—other people can often spot problem areas or typos that you would have otherwise missed.

DON’T:

Write one long paragraph. Structure your ideas into clearly defined sections and it will pay off—an introduction, middle, and a conclusion will help admissions officers to understand your points as they read through quickly.

Over-state the facts: Making a two-week internship sound like you were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company won’t improve your standing in the eyes of the admissions committee. Be honest—they’ll appreciate it.

Try and cram too much in: If your essay feels like a list of your various classes, clubs, jobs, and accomplishments, it won’t help the admissions committee understand what you’re like as a person. Try not to exceed the requested word count, be focused, and edit yourself well.

Use complex language: Focus on plain, correct English to make your statement clear and easy to read. Overcomplicating your language might demonstrate a wide vocabulary, but it won’t help your clarity. If you’re producing an essay, this is your chance to demonstrate your writing skills and the fact that you know what’s appropriate when—a critical asset for a university student.

Remember, admissions committees receive thousands of personal statements, and they have limited time to read them, so you need to stand out. Ask yourself if your essay truly reflects you, or just sounds like anyone else you know. Be clear, let your talents shine through, and make your reason for applying to their school obvious.


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