(Prepared by Bryn Mawr
College, Office of
PURPOSE OF THE
Your high school transcript,
recommendations, and SAT scores address your academic abilities, but your
essay lets us learn more about you as a
person. Yes, we really will read your essay
carefully -- in fact, we may pass it around the office to share our delight in
your writing ability! Remember, though, your essay
isn't meant simply to satisfy our curiosity about you, but rather, to:
* demonstrate your ability to
express your views clearly and rationally, to resolve intellectual problems and
to make new discoveries -- all important goals of a liberal arts education
* illustrate that you are a good
match for Bryn Mawr by revealing your thoughts, attitudes, experiences,
aspirations, and personal qualities.
This workshop is meant to help
you to choose and address the application
essay question that best allows you to reveal
yourself with intelligence and style.
Don't panic! You've got plenty to
write about. In the words of fiction writer Flannery O'Connor, "The fact is that
anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last
him the rest of his days. If you can't make something out of a little
experience, you probably won't be able to make it out of a lot." The challenge,
then, is to use the application
essay not only to report what you know, but
also to discover, in the process of writing, something you hadn't known before.
Leave plenty of time before your deadline to allow this to happen.
THE ORAL DRAFT
You might try out a topic on a
friend in order to test your ideas and to find your natural "voice" for
expressing these ideas. Pay attention to the natural structure of your
conversation - do you tell a story to illustrate your point? Do your ideas
provoke your friend to respond or argue? What logic does your argument follow?
Try representing the structure of your conversation in outline form or draw it
in an eight-panel storyboard. Then consider what changes might be made to the
way you've organized your "oral draft" in order to tell the story or make the
argument more effectively in writing.
essay should reveal your thoughts, feelings,
and opinions, so you may use the pronoun "I" freely. And by practicing your
topic with a friend, you will become aware of qualities of your communication
style or "voice" (such as humor, wit, precision, or sincerity) that are
important to preserve in your writing.
Next, try discussing your topic
with a parent or teacher in order to find a (slightly) more formal tone and more
deliberate structure for your essay. Write the
first draft based on this new conversation, then set it aside for a day or two.
After distancing yourself from your essay, you
can re-read it with a fresh perspective and make any necessary changes in
organization and tone. At this point, you should also pay close attention to
matters of grammar and spelling.
Once you have written your second
draft, it would probably be helpful to share it with your family, friends,
English teacher, or guidance counselor. They may be able to offer suggestions
for improvement, but the final product must be yours.
questions, as well as the supplemental essay
questions that many colleges (including Bryn Mawr) require, can be classified
according to the kinds of responses they elicit.
Tell a story.
The question, "Evaluate a
significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you
have faced and its impact on you" (from the Common
Application) requires you to tell a story. This story (along with your
thoughts about the events recounted) might become your entire
essay, or the story you tell might be limited
to an anecdote that illustrates a point that has been made abstractly. The
"narrative essay" form derives much of its
reader interest from depicting action; you might either begin at the highpoint
of the action or at the story's chronological beginning. However you begin,
remember that you want to do more than entertain. Think of the impact your
experience has had upon you as your thesis; your story should provide the
evidence - in vivid, sensory detail -- to support your thesis.
form of essay,
* Employ elements of
story-telling including action, sensory detail, even dialogue, to make your
* Remember that "action" can be physical or mental (your thought process).
* Use your true, unique voice to tell the story, not a flowery, inflated or
pretentious style. If you are thorough and thoughtful in expressing the meaning
in your experience, this will be impressive enough.
Defend a belief or value.
The question, "Discuss some issue
of personal, national, or local concern and its importance to you" (from the
Common Application) requires that you defend a
well-considered point of view. If you choose to answer this question, make sure
that the issue you address is one about which you feel strongly. Pay attention
to the issues you follow in the news, discuss with your friends or write about
in your journal. Once you've identified why this particular issue is important
to you, ask yourself, "So what?" Then answer this underlying question with your
essay, which also gives you an opportunity to
reveal your maturity and perspective by demonstrating your connection to the
larger world. Bonus: you'll also show that you are ready to be an active
participant in a diverse community, such as a college.
form of essay,
Write what you really think, not
what you think others want to read.
a character portrait.
The question, "Indicate a person
who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence" or
"Describe a character in fiction, an historical figure, or a creative work (as
in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that
influence" (the Common Application) are
intended to reveal what aspects of character you value. Do pay attention to the
difference between exterior and interior descriptions.
Do remember that this character portrait is meant to reveal you: not only who
you are now, but who you will become as a result. You would do well, though, to
show support or plan to support values in college.
Is there a research project, program, application,
or work of art that has personal meaning and that you intend to pursue?
essay interesting? Will it stand out because it shows who I really am? Is
it about something important to me? Do I show how I think? Do I illustrate the
issue, story or experience? Is my presentation neat, logical, and clearly
stated? Are there good transitions between separate ideas? Did I make a
conclusion rather than ending with a summary?