writing a successful college essay

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I am currently adjunct faculty at St. Thomas University and need a good presentation like this to share with my students to help as they compose their final papers. Thanks Bob Parsons bobjr10@mac.com

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Views of the Successful College Essay: : 

Views of the Successful College Essay: Beverly Morse – Kenyon College Jeremiah Quinlan – Yale University David Schindel – Sandia Preparatory School

An Approach to the Intentional Essay: 

An Approach to the Intentional Essay NPR “This I Believe” format: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4538138 Essay Parameters Clear statement of belief Story that reveals the discovery of the belief Conclusion that reflects on the belief Concise (300 word maximum)

Steps: 

Steps The educator curriculum for “This I Believe is available on the NPR website. I condense it to use in workshops. Lesson One: Brainstorm Head the paper with “I Believe” and write non-stop for twenty minutes. It is alright to repeat, but write for the allotted time.

Step Two: 

Step Two Examine (discuss with class) the sheet for your “core” belief – the one that remains constant. State your belief in a declarative sentence; for example, “I believe in the power of names.” I typically write an essay along with students to illustrate.

Step Three: 

Step Three Take the statement of core belief and develop it into one paragraph which defines the belief broadly. Be certain that your belief is clearly stated and specific. Avoid beliefs that are too general (i.e. “I believe in friendship).”

Step Four: 

Step Four Tell your story. Show the reader through a specific illustration of how you arrived at your core belief. Begin with a stream of consciousness reflection. -- Be certain that the story illustrates the core belief you have stated in the intro.

Step Five: 

Step Five Write the conclusion that returns the reader to the core belief. The conclusion need not restate the belief but must concretely connect your story with your introduction.

An Example: 

An Example We Are Each Other's Business by Eboo Patel    Enlarge Nubar Alexanian Eboo Patel is the founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based organization fostering the international interfaith youth movement. He lectures worldwide on youth and religion and was a keynote speaker at the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Forum. In 2002, Utne Magazine named Patel one of "thirty social visionaries under 30."       “I realize now that to believe in pluralism means I need the courage to act on it. Action is what separates a belief from an opinion.”     Morning Edition, November 7, 2005 · I am an American Muslim. I believe in pluralism. In the Holy Quran, God tells us, "I created you into diverse nations and tribes that you may come to know one another." I believe America is humanity's best opportunity to make God's wish that we come to know one another a reality. In my office hangs Norman Rockwell's illustration Freedom of Worship. A Muslim holding a Quran in his hands stands near a Catholic woman fingering her rosary. Other figures have their hands folded in prayer and their eyes filled with piety. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder facing the same direction, comfortable with the presence of one another and yet apart. It is a vivid depiction of a group living in peace with its diversity, yet not exploring it. We live in a world where the forces that seek to divide us are strong. To overcome them, we must do more than simply stand next to one another in silence. I attended high school in the western suburbs of Chicago. The group I ate lunch with included a Jew, a Mormon, a Hindu, a Catholic and a Lutheran. We were all devout to a degree, but we almost never talked about religion. Somebody would announce at the table that they couldn't eat a certain kind of food, or any food at all, for a period of time. We all knew religion hovered behind this, but nobody ever offered any explanation deeper than "my mom said," and nobody ever asked for one. A few years after we graduated, my Jewish friend from the lunchroom reminded me of an experience we both wish had never happened. A group of thugs in our high school had taken to scrawling anti-Semitic slurs on classroom desks and shouting them in the hallway. I did not confront them. I did not comfort my Jewish friend. Instead I averted my eyes from their bigotry, and I avoided my friend because I couldn't stand to face him. My friend told me he feared coming to school those days, and he felt abandoned as he watched his close friends do nothing. Hearing him tell me of his suffering and my complicity is the single most humiliating experience of my life. My friend needed more than my silent presence at the lunch table. I realize now that to believe in pluralism means I need the courage to act on it. Action is what separates a belief from an opinion. Beliefs are imprinted through actions. In the words of the great American poet Gwendolyn Brooks: "We are each other's business; we are each other's harvest; we are each other's magnitude and bond." I cannot go back in time and take away the suffering of my Jewish friend, but through action I can prevent it from happening to others.

Use of Sample: 

Use of Sample I use Eboo’s Patel’s essay for a number of reasons Story from high school Story related to a core ethical value Story is tight and demonstrates well effective conclusion

The Editing Process: 

The Editing Process The Editing process is the key to the Intentional essay and is student generated. Brainstorm the characteristics of good writing. The brainstorming process allows an opportunity to review principles of good writing and parameters of standard written English.

“On Being a Good Neighbor” Martin Luther King, Jr.: 

“On Being a Good Neighbor” Martin Luther King, Jr. To illustrate Intentional writing, I use the opening of Martin Luther King Jr.’s essay “On Being a good Neighbor.” “I should like to talk to you about a good man, whose exemplary life will always be a flashing light to plague the dozing conscience of mankind. His goodness was not found in a passive commitment to a particular creed, but in the active participation in a life-saving deed; not in a moral pilgrimage that reached its destination point, but in the love ethic by which he journeyed life’s highway. He was good because he was a good neighbor.” I use this example to demonstrate King’s freedom style and his control which creates “intentional” writing. I typically make copies of the entire essay and find time to discuss the Samaritan and the ethics of altruism.

Student Generated Grid: 

Student Generated Grid “I Believe” Evaluation Grid Organization: Pre-Writing – intentional drafting of sections of paper Points __________ out of 10 Introduction -- clear statement of belief” Points ___________ out of 15. Body – strong, clear and precise presentation of story Points ___________ out of 15. Conclusion – clear summary and return to original belief Points ___________ out of 15. Structure: -- Sentence forms and manipulation (paper does not use unintended fragments or run-ons). Points __________ out of 5 -- Sentences vary in style and are not monotonous Points __________ out of 5 -- Grammar: Intentional use of end marks (periods, exclamation points, question marks) Points _________ out of 5 Intentional use of semi-colons, colons, quotation marks Points ________ out of 5 Intentional use of commas, parenthesis, and dashes Points ________ out of 5 Style: -- paper avoids lax words (very, good, like, etc.) Points __________ out of 5 -- precise (no sentence is more verbose than necessary) Points __________ out of 5 -- passive v. active ( paper uses stronger voice when possible) Points __________ out of 5 -- paper uses appropriate tense and follows the principles of agreement Points __________ out of 5

Conclusion: 

Conclusion You now can hear your own voice. Now Write with that voice. Edit with the criteria you established for good writing Have another pair of eyes read your final draft with attention to spelling and mechanics, but without content comment beyond,”you are unclear here”.

An Essay that Worked : 

An Essay that Worked Madelyn Sullivan graduated VMS in 2005 and participated in my first experiment with this technique. She wrote the essay on the next slide in a flurry of inspiration.

An Example: 

An Example I voted on November 2nd. As an eighteen-year-old woman in America, I am legally allowed to exercise my right to vote. Although my heart beat slightly fast, and my hands shook unsteadily at the polling booth, upon arriving home form my first voting experience, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment and relief. I sat on the couch that night, when I picked up a Time magazine and began to real an article on Sudan by Massimo Calabresi. The vast nation of Sudan is divided by both religion and culture, but mainly ethnicity: Arabs and Africans. While all citizens of Sudan are African, the nomadic tribes of Sudan are referred to as Arabs, while the sedentary tribes are called Africans. The images I saw of the battling Arabs and Africans were stark and the stories I read were more horrific. The Janjaweed, “devils on horseback,” is an Arabic group of local tribes funded by the Sudanese government to crush the radical Sudan Liberation Army. The group began attacking civilians, claiming that they were aiding insurgents. Janjaweed ride or fly into African villages, firing guns on men and children alike. They rape the women, leave most children, and kill all the men. These are of course loose rules. One woman described a Janjaweed rampage: “A fighter unwrapped a swaddling cloth and rolled a newborn onto the dirt. The baby was a girl so they left her. Then the Janjaweed spotted a one-year-old boy and decided he was a future enemy. In front of a group of onlookers, a man tossed the boy into the air as another took aim and shot him dead.” Suddenly voting didn’t seem as important as it had fifteen minutes earlier. Suddenly I didn’t want to go to school the next day, but fly to Africa and give all my hot lunches to a starving family at a refugee camp. What surprised me the most, however, was a common theme throughout the article about the lack of world response. We cannot let another Rwanda or Holocaust occur while we are alive. Genocide is supposed to be a thing of the past. It is a story we read about in books or a special we watch on the history channel. Let Sudan be the one time the world learned and said “never again” and meant it. As I sat on the couch, brimming with tears and watching the muted images of election results, I felt a desperate sense of despair. I had to remind myself that I am able to affect what happens in my life. I voted on Tuesday. I am a woman. I am eighteen. And I had a choice. I am lucky, and I have the obligation to help people without my same rights. On Tuesday, what I voted for will not only affect my local and national community, but also the world. I am indebted to the citizens of countries like Sudan to vote for them, to give a voice to the people who cannot speak above the gunfire and violence that reigns in their country. I realized then that my trip to the ballot box was perhaps not so futile and that I would indeed attend school the next day, no matter how great my desire to flee the country and save the world as a self-proclaimed knight-errant. I reminded myself that although I am an adult with adult responsibilities, I am still in high school with plans to go to college. I can only hope that the best possible use of my time right now is to attend school to better educate myself. I can only hope that what I learn today will give me the courage and the knowledge to stop tomorrow’s Holocaust. Madelyn Sullivan, November, 2004 Madelyn now attends Bowdoin College

Slide17: 

The Application Essay in the context of a small, selective, writing-intensive liberal arts college.

Common Application Personal Essay : 

Common Application Personal Essay “This personal statement helps us become acquainted with you in ways different from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will demonstrate your ability to organize thoughts and express yourself. We are looking for an essay that will help us know you better as a person and as a student. Please write an essay (250-500 words) on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below.”

Common Application Signature: 

Common Application Signature I certify that all information in my application, including my Personal Essay, is my own work, factually true, and honestly presented. ________________________________ Signature Date

Slide20: 

Kenyon ‘76

Voice – starts with prewriting 1: 

Voice – starts with prewriting 1 Write down six or seven adjectives you would use to describe yourself. What have you done in the last month or two which has made you proud or which has surprised yourself. Merge these ideas and just write – don’t edit at this stage, just let the ideas flow.

Voice – prewriting 2: 

Voice – prewriting 2 Where will you be tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.? Why are you there and how do you feel about it? What are you looking forward to the most on Monday? Why? What are you least looking forward to? Tell the story of your name

Slide26: 

I have ridden a pig. Stay with me here. I mean this in the most literal sense possible. I. Rode. A pig. I was four. We were visiting Mom’s family friends on their farm. The had a hog that was roughly the size of a fridge, if you knocked that fridge over and gave it a horrible stink. Mom’s friend thought it would be just grand if I rode it awhile. I was smallish, and the hog was huge-ish… surely this was a no-brainer. I’m happy to say this story does not end with me in a hospital with a fractured spleen and various other injuries. I sat on the pig, it leaped around a bit, and then I hopped off and went inside. My mother smelled me before she saw me. I didn’t see the problem. I was all right, after all. Except for being – and I cannot stress this enough – very, very smelly. (I promise I am going somewhere with this.) My mother has many friends of the farmer variety. This is because Ma’s childhood took place in a small, empty tourist town. The house was tiny, especially seeing as it was crowded with eleven people. This is if you didn’t count the guns and the dogs. (Many, many guns. A few dogs). Your opportunities ranged from ‘toilet cleaner’ to ‘waitress’ in that town. (I promise this essay is going to get to me.) From just hearing how my mom started out, you wouldn’t be able to guess where she is now. It turns out mom has this gift for international relations. She now works in D.C. at an extremely prestigious company whose work I have trouble explaining to people. All I can really tell you for sure is she’s a consultant, she’s brilliant, and she enjoys her job. The point is this: life is very much like a pig. It is very big, and it is full of life and stink. You can just sit there, but letting it go along will generally land you in slop. Nobody wants slop. Your other option is to grab it by the ears and make the crazy bugger go where you want. It’s harder, but you end up somewhere much better. I think my mom, somewhere along the line, reached forward and grabbed that life-pig by the ears. I think that’s awesome. I think she’s inspired me.

Slide27: 

One of the problems that Karl Marx found with the capitalist system was that many people were forced into occupations where they could not have pride in their work and were, because of this, unhappy. I never would have believed that a Marxist theory could have any application to a seventeen-year-old student until this summer, when I had an experience more grueling than the SAT’s, more confusing than James Joyce, more frustrating than a dead car battery in a Minnesota winter: this was the summer I went job hunting. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . So what did I learn from this? I learned that it is easier to find a job with a temporary agency because there are fifty people competing for fifty jobs, rather than fifty people competing for one job. I learned that most of my friends who worked at places such as the ones I applied to, got the job through some sort of connections. I learned to find work using the skills and experience I already have. I learned something about working in an office this summer, and about the people who try to make the workplace enjoyable, even if the work itself is tedious. I learned that most people in this kinds of low-paying clerical work do not have pride in their work, but that they stick with it because it gives them a purpose, a responsibility, and even a social environment, and that a group of people with a task to do, no matter how mundane, can find a way of having fun. I learned that Marx was maybe a bit of a pessimist. Eric Ziegenhagen, Kenyon ‘93

The Application Essay in the context of a comprehensive, liberal arts college with a large applicant pool. : 

The Application Essay in the context of a comprehensive, liberal arts college with a large applicant pool.

Reading the Sheer Volume of Essays : 

Reading the Sheer Volume of Essays 21,000 applications. 14 or 15K have high grade points and strong testing (aka, they could do the work) 20 readers. Reading 25 applications a day/ 6 days a week. 50 essays/day- 300 essays/ week. What separates students out in this incredibly strong applicant pool? Personality- from extracurricular activities, recommendations, interviews and.. essays

3 Questions to Ask Before You Even Write the Essay: 

3 Questions to Ask Before You Even Write the Essay Who am I? Is this essay about me? Is it reflective? Is this essay about me NOW? Does this resonate? What do my activities say about me? What will my teachers say about me? How can I separate myself from the rest of an incredibly talented applicant pool?

Use of Standardized Essays : 

Use of Standardized Essays Last year, we decided to revert to an optional second essay on the Yale Supplement because (in part) of the writing section of the SAT and ACT. But, the admissions committee only looked at the writing section a handful of times in unique cases. Thus, this year a second essay is required again. The middle 50th percentile of the writing section of the SAT (690-780) was almost exactly the same as the middle 50th percentile of the other two sections of the exam (700 – 790).

An Example: 

An Example I voted on November 2nd. As an eighteen-year-old woman in America, I am legally allowed to exercise my right to vote. Although my heart beat slightly fast, and my hands shook unsteadily at the polling booth, upon arriving home form my first voting experience, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment and relief. I sat on the couch that night, when I picked up a Time magazine and began to real an article on Sudan by Massimo Calabresi. The vast nation of Sudan is divided by both religion and culture, but mainly ethnicity: Arabs and Africans. While all citizens of Sudan are African, the nomadic tribes of Sudan are referred to as Arabs, while the sedentary tribes are called Africans. The images I saw of the battling Arabs and Africans were stark and the stories I read were more horrific. The Janjaweed, “devils on horseback,” is an Arabic group of local tribes funded by the Sudanese government to crush the radical Sudan Liberation Army. The group began attacking civilians, claiming that they were aiding insurgents. Janjaweed ride or fly into African villages, firing guns on men and children alike. They rape the women, leave most children, and kill all the men. These are of course loose rules. One woman described a Janjaweed rampage: “A fighter unwrapped a swaddling cloth and rolled a newborn onto the dirt. The baby was a girl so they left her. Then the Janjaweed spotted a one-year-old boy and decided he was a future enemy. In front of a group of onlookers, a man tossed the boy into the air as another took aim and shot him dead.” Suddenly voting didn’t seem as important as it had fifteen minutes earlier. Suddenly I didn’t want to go to school the next day, but fly to Africa and give all my hot lunches to a starving family at a refugee camp. What surprised me the most, however, was a common theme throughout the article about the lack of world response. We cannot let another Rwanda or Holocaust occur while we are alive. Genocide is supposed to be a thing of the past. It is a story we read about in books or a special we watch on the history channel. Let Sudan be the one time the world learned and said “never again” and meant it. As I sat on the couch, brimming with tears and watching the muted images of election results, I felt a desperate sense of despair. I had to remind myself that I am able to affect what happens in my life. I voted on Tuesday. I am a woman. I am eighteen. And I had a choice. I am lucky, and I have the obligation to help people without my same rights. On Tuesday, what I voted for will not only affect my local and national community, but also the world. I am indebted to the citizens of countries like Sudan to vote for them, to give a voice to the people who cannot speak above the gunfire and violence that reigns in their country. I realized then that my trip to the ballot box was perhaps not so futile and that I would indeed attend school the next day, no matter how great my desire to flee the country and save the world as a self-proclaimed knight-errant. I reminded myself that although I am an adult with adult responsibilities, I am still in high school with plans to go to college. I can only hope that the best possible use of my time right now is to attend school to better educate myself. I can only hope that what I learn today will give me the courage and the knowledge to stop tomorrow’s Holocaust. Madelyn Sullivan, November, 2004 Madelyn now attends Bowdoin College

What Would I Write? : 

What Would I Write? e1 is a mature + reflective piece on voting and making a difference in the world. Talks about voting + Darfur. Realizes that college will put her on the path to make a difference. I like the strong and sensitive person that emerges here.

What Would Resonate?: 

What Would Resonate? Maddy has strong convictions and is not afraid to follow them. For example…. She is respected by everyone in the building for her compassion and maturity. She cares about her community and the greater world around her and as the leader of xxx, she raises the awareness of her peers. Young democrats? Debate? MUN? International Relations club? Service? Any leadership?

What Would I Write? : 

What Would I Write? e1 is a funny piece about his last name. if anyone can take a joke, he can. full of metaphors and self-deprecating humor but not sure what we get out of this essay. He writes with enthusiasm but there is no take home.

What Would Resonate?: 

What Would Resonate? Great sense of humor Other students enjoy his presence in class He think outside of the box and pushes learning in the classroom. Verbose in class discussion and in writing.

Bibliography and Acknowledgements: 

Bibliography and Acknowledgements National Public Radio. All Things Considered, “This I Believe” Archives. Patel, Ebbo. “We Are Each Other’s Business.” The Interfaith Youth Core. Chicago. Bandoni, Robert A. Senior Ethics Seminar. Vail Mountain School. King, Martin Luther, Jr. “On Being a Good Neighbor.” Fiske, Edward R. and Bruce Hammond. Fiske: Real College Essays that Work. Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville, Illinois. 2006. Sullivan, Madelyn. “I Voted on November 2nd.” Bowdoin College. Lapote, Phillip. The Art of the Personal Essay. The Fourth Genre Patterson, Sam, The San Diego Writing Project. The University of California @ San Diego.

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