Most people don't know that the college admissions experience offers students and parents many opportunities for having a little fun. Reading about different schools in college guidebooks such as The Fiske Guide and Colleges That Change Lives can be very entertaining (as well as useful). Having a look at colleges at the likes of www.unigo.com and www.thecollegeprowler.com is a kick. Visiting colleges can be a totally enjoyable experience for budding college applicants, parents and, sometimes, younger siblings. Even writing a college essay can be fun.
"What?" you say, "Writing an essay is fun? Get real!" Okay, many students find answering essay questions the worst part of the application process. But if you write about something you care about and dare to be yourself, or perhaps use a bit of irony or "tongue in cheek," you might just end up having a good time.
Let's Have Some Fun Right Now
Over the years, Stanford University has asked applicants to answer some variation of a "Letter to your future roommate" essay question, e.g., "Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate -- and us -- know you better."
Here is what one bushy-tailed student wrote:
TO MY FUTURE ROOMMATE:
IF YOU HAVE EVER--
l. Kidnapped your best friend at 3:00 a.m. with a bunch of buddies and taken him/her for an emergency milkshake run?
2. Made snow angels in the nude on the school ski trip when it's 0 degrees outside?
3. Told tourists that if they "pee in the ocean," they'll attract great white sharks?
4. Re-enacted Monty Python and the Holy Grail in its entirety before your history class?
5. Taken apart your broken MP3 because you are sure that you can fix it?
6. In the middle of the summer, dressed up in all of your ski clothes, gone to the nearest 7-Eleven to buy ice blocks and joined your friends to slide down the nearest grassy hill, all the while complaining how cold it is?
l. Memorized the first half of Whitman's Song of Myself, because there was nothing better to do?
2. Spent three days arguing with your friends about the socio-political ramifications of the word "Chick?"
3. Stayed up until 5:00 a.m. because the conclusion of your English paper just wasn't right?
4. Received a parking ticket because you had to respond to a piece of racist graffiti in a public bathroom?
5. Spent the entire day at a cafe re-reading a book by your favorite author?
6. When you were a second grader, explained to a classmate's mother why you thought screaming at her kid was inappropriate while she threatened to spank you for being so insolent--
THEN WE'RE GOING TO GET ALONG JUST FINE!
So if this isn't fun, I don't know what is. But there's more to it than you might think.
Application essays should allow people reading them know who you are by what you say.
What does this essay say about the student?
The Different "Messages" In The Essay
First and most obviously, the writer has a great sense of humor. College admissions readers love when you put smiles on their faces. Second, it says he's fun loving (the milkshake run) and also refreshingly audacious in his own twisted way (telling tourists that if they pee in the ocean, they'll attract great white sharks). Third, the student is curious (took apart his MP3). Admissions people look for inquisitiveness, resourcefulness, and students who are dying to learn. Fourth, he's a reader (his reference to Whitman's Song of Myself and re-reading a favorite book). Reading is a big deal in college. Fifth, he's a hard worker and wants to do things "better than very good" (making sure the conclusion of an English paper was just right). Sixth, he has a sense of social responsibility (responded to a piece of racist graffiti) and is also willing to stand up for other people (confronting his friend's mother about screaming at her kid). Finally, most people would think that the student is pretty smart. As you read it, what messages did you get?
Oh, yeah: The kid got into Stanford.
Follow Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/admissposs
Many students ask whether they should try to write a college essay that is funny. Read on for examples of how humor can help you write a great application essay.
Very rare is the teenager who is devoid of personality yet college essays often sound like they’ve been written by someone wearing an obnoxiously over-starched tuxedo while facing a firing squad. Your essay should reveal something about your personality and character to give your reader a good sense of who you are and to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Humor, even in small amounts, can do just that.
“Ellen” exhibited a love of and commitment to dance. There was no doubt that this would be the topic for her essay. She’d been taking dance lessons for over 12 years, multiple nights per week, and couldn’t get enough of it. Her most embarrassing moment, however, also had to do with dance, as she tripped on her way into a formal ball at a local military high school.
The coincidence was perfect! Starting the essay with a dramatic and self-effacing description of her inauspicious entrance into a formal school military ball was a real attention grabber and a fantastic transition to her impressive commitment to dance. Schools learn that she’s not afraid to make a commitment, that she works hard, that perhaps she’ll bring her dance talent to their campus, AND that she has a wonderful sense of humor that allows her to laugh…even at herself!
The person reading your essay is often reading hundreds of them, and while you may not have done something that no other person in that applicant pool has done, you can present it in such a way that makes it memorable.
Another applicant, for example, had an extensive commitment to community service and started her essay by indicating that she wanted to work at Walmart. She hooked her reader with this rather odd proclamation for a college-bound student, but then went on to explain that Walmart has a foundation that donates significant money to charitable causes, and that was exactly the kind of work the student wanted to be doing some day.
Sometimes the humor can be short and subtle, but it adds a really nice flavor to your essay. One young man babysits for a significantly impaired 13 year old who is almost entirely non-verbal but still manages to get his point across. In the essay, the writer indicates that he speaks three languages, English, Spanish, and “David”.
When you include humor in your essay, you can go on to share your accomplishments without sounding arrogant, and, in fact, you will have made your point in a very memorable way.
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