Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

I Can't Write This Essay!

I Can't Write This Essay!

ask the recap: college admissions essaysI’m so stressed out trying to finish my college applications. The supplemental questions are the worst. How am I supposed to say everything I need to in just 250 or 350 words? I don’t know how to write an essay that short.

Help! –K.N., USA


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You’re right: 250 words isn’t a whole lot to work with. But the same basic technique of essay-writing still applies: Focus on one main idea, and develop it with well-chosen examples.

But before we talk about that, a quick overview of essay structure.

A longer essay might look something like this:

      • An introduction: Several sentences which set the stage for your reader, draw your reader into the topic and the point you’re going to make about it, and culminate in a statement of the main idea of your essay—in other words, your thesis statement.
      • A “body”: Multiple paragraphs that develop and explain your main point through relevant examples and careful analysis of those examples.
      • A conclusion: A handful of sentences that “sell” your point to the reader in fresh language, allowing your reader to leave your paper with a clear understanding of your main point, and the efficacy of your supporting arguments.

A shorter essay of 300 words or so won't allow you the luxury of lots of examples, or even an introduction. Still, you can think about it as a longer essay in miniature—a mini-essay.

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      • Your introduction: In a short essay, this is usually a sentence or two, which draws the reader into your answer.
      • Your thesis statement: In a short essay, this is usually the sentence following your opening, which states the point you’re going to make.
      • The “body” of your response: In a short essay, this is usually an example or two that supports your main idea. Be specific. Even though your answer is short, admissions officers still want you to answer with good details, supported by your own thoughts on, and analysis of, those details.
      • Your conclusion: In a short essay, this is usually a sentence that wraps everything up.

One of the biggest traps that answers to supplemental questions fall into is the “laundry list” trap. This often occurs when students feel they have to cram every possible response to a question into a 250-word answer. In reply to a question like—“What academic department at our school holds the most interest for you, and why?"—a prospective student might mention the faculty, and the course variety, and the research opportunities, and the possibilities for publication, and...and...AND!

But if you keep that “mini-essay” structure in mind, you'll be able answer that kind of question with focus and clarity. You just need to pick one main point, then develop it with one or two examples, which you can examine in some degree of detail.

Likewise, you can bring the rigors of “long-form” essay-writing to your "mini-essay" by doing enough research about the question to build a solid case for your answer. That means actually looking into the research opportunities you plan to gush about. Or reading up enough on the professors in a department to know whom you might like to work with, and why.

You'd read a book before you tried to write about it, right? (Right?) So take the time to check out the college’s website before you tackle the supplemental questions. Get to know the people, opportunities, and aspects of the institution that you’ll be writing about. Then, with a clear focus in mind, you’ll be able to write with specificity and clarity, whether your answer is 250 words, or much longer.

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  • Julie Peterson

    Great tips! I’ve been looking for such kind of useful and laconic tips for my students, and I will definitely include your article in the “must read” list for them 🙂
    I’ve also found a pretty good guide on writing essays recently – http://www.essaymama.com/blog/essay-writing-guide/. Maybe someone will be interested in it

 

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