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One important thing a lot of students miss is that your application is not initially reviewed by the decision makers. Instead, you are presented by the admissions officers to the committee that makes the decision. So it really helps if your main essay is easily presentable.
You might be sick of hearing this, but the best essays tend to be easy to read and about ONE thing that manages to bring perspective to something mundane.
It means your main essay should be easily condensed into a catchy summary.
That would help the admissions officer when presenting your application to the committee. Just imagine the scene: “This student should be admitted! I mean look at his essay, it’s about how his pirate activities in his childhood in Beijing led him to want to fight pollution through machine learning!” Now people are interested.
With that in mind, here’s a good exercise you can do when you’re drafting your essay: once you’ve finished the first draft of the Common Application essay, ask someone to read it and then summarize it into 1 or 2 sentences. If the summary is not catchy, you need to go back to the drawing board and rework your essay.
This is not to say that a catchy summary is what you should strive for at all costs—it’s just one factor, a tool to help you improve your essay.
The biggest mistake we see students committing is not spending nearly enough time on the supplements. Contrary to what many students believe, supplements can actually be more important than the main Common Application essay. In fact, one major reason high-caliber students are not admitted to the schools of their choice is that they didn’t put much effort into the supplements and turned in less than satisfactory pieces of writing.
Colleges are looking for fit as well as how excited you are about them. And that’s shown to a large extent in how much time and energy you’ve put into the supplements.
So if your main Common Application essay is clean and polished while your supplements for a particular school are rough and riddled with spelling errors and awkward sentences, that’s a clear indicator that you don’t care much about the school.
So play the game right and do your homework. Get to know the colleges you are serious about attending, not just by surfing their websites, but look at their student newspapers, Facebook pages of clubs and organizations you’re interested in, campus blogs, and other media. Of course, visiting the campuses is also a great idea if you have the time.
To that end, we highly recommend you finish at least the main Common Application essay before the summer’s up, so you have plenty of time to work on the all-important supplements.