Forget what your English teachers told you!

Writing the dreaded college essay might be just as much fun as your routine trip to the dentist. Here are some general tips on what we as your readers would like to see in your final copy.

1) Restating the Resume
We know that you are all talented and exceptional individuals with dynamic personalities. Therefore, let us know what makes you special! For example, if you are an outstanding field hockey player, the majority of your application will likely provide us with details about your many athletic successes. After reading the awards section, your resume section, and the school counselor’s synopsis of your talents, we will likely know a great deal about your athletic endeavors. Take the time in your essay to let us know something different about yourself. It could be your secret love for choreographing routines to Western musicals, the fact that you spend Saturday afternoons clogging, or express to us the passions you have yet to satisfy on the high school level. Let us know what makes you tick without restating your resume!

2) Leave Grandpa out of it
A great deal of the applications we read detail the extraordinary life of a family member.  While essays describing how heroic your grandfather was or how loving your aunt can be are obviously moving topics, they can also leave us with little information about the applicant. At the end of reading many “grandpa essays” we tend to agree that the individual is awesome, but unfortunately, your grandparent or loved one is likely not the one applying to W&M. Don’t use all of your valuable 500 words describing your loved one’s life accomplishments. Instead tell us how the lessons you learned from he or she changed your perspective, your goals, your actions, your interests, and your dreams.

3) Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Giving students’ generous nature, many of our applicants have participated in some sort of service trip during their high school careers. These often life changing experiences inspire students to describe the backbreaking work required to improve the local conditions, how dilapidated the living situations are, and the locals’ inspiring attitudes. These essays can be moving accounts and provide insight into the social, economical, and cultural differences between regions. However, students run the same risk as in the traditional “grandpa essay” in that at the end of the 500 words we still do not know much about you! Instead of chronicling the daily work and conversations had during the service experience, explain to us what you gleaned from the relationships formed and jobs completed. Better yet, tell us how you plan to change your community with this insight, how you did improve your home situation, or how you plan to make a difference on our campus if admitted.

4) College: The best four years of your life
Spending four years at a place as special as W&M is not only an exciting and life changing experience, but also a privilege.  Let us know what you would do with the opportunity to grow and mature within these historic walls. Detail your passions, your interests, your dreams, your goals, and your potential. Help us understand why the person YOU will become is a future W&M grad we cannot wait to have as a member of our community.

I can also recommend proofreading, making sure you upload the correct essay to the corresponding university, and to have another person read the masterpiece before hitting submit.  Most importantly, we simply want to hear about you from you.  The bottom line is that we are interested in learning as much as possible about you as a person. Show us what you got! Go for it….and good luck!

– Amanda Norris

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