Anna Redmond, a former admissions interviewer for Harvard, dishes out some advice on essay writing. And she makes a good point: that you need to know yourself, at least a little, to write a successful essay. The process can be a big pain; we all know that. But looking at it from another angle, you might find this is a golden opportunity to learn a little more about yourself.
Don’t mistake talking about your accomplishments with demonstrating aspects of your character, however. What you want to do in your essay is tell a story where your actions show the reader who you are. Don’t tell your reader you’re confident or courageous or a natural leader. Show the reader by telling a story from your life that demonstrates these qualities, without ever using those words.
Redmond’s advice about writing several essays on different subjects is a good idea. But if you don’t have time for that now, here’s a shorter exercise you can try: just write six different paragraphs about important moments of your life. Put them away, as Redmond suggests, and look them over in a day or two. What is the picture you’ve drawn? Who is this person?
This is one of the reasons that I actually like working with students I’ve never met. I don’t know you; I can only go by the essays you send me. And that’s pretty much the way it will be with the colleges you apply to as well. So step back, and look at your life stories with a new, more objective set of eyes, and see what those stories say about you. You might be surprised.