How to Tell Your Story to the Admissions Committee?

Tell your story to the admissions committee

This article first appeared in the Hindu on October 17, 2020.

If you are a baffled student staring at essay prompts and Statements of Purpose for college applications, here is a quick primer.

Why do they want to read my essay? To know you and your story. Clearly, marks as a sole criteria for entry is unfair, as demonstrated by the Delhi University (DU) cut-offs. Instead, a “holistic” admission process sees marks across various years, your personality and communication skills as judged by essays, interviews, case studies and group discussions. Here is an overview of how to approach college-application essays:

Personal essays

What is important to you? Describe a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What is unique about your background or community? Describe a difficult event, failure or setback that changed your perspective and personality. The common thread is that they are “personal”. 

Unfortunately, Indian education systems teach us to write essays that are formal and structured and most students end up using these prompts to boast about themselves.

Make a shift. Think about those moments, stories and ideas that you rarely talk about to anyone. Like, I wonder why adults lie. You may end up writing a beautiful story on how you learnt about the impact of truth — and lies. 

Some pointers:

1. Be personal and authentic – It is much easier to tell a real story than to manufacture one. 

2. Share your vulnerabilities and insights rather than brag about your achievements. 

3. Focus on positives. Not how your faith in humanity was eroded by your best friend cheating on you. Talk about how you learnt to stand up for yourself while not judging others.

4. Try to be original. Avoid clichéd stories like recovery after sports injuries, unless you have a truly unique perspective. 

Statement of Purpose

Almost every college application will need some version of what do you want to study and why? And why in our college?

This needs a specific and in-depth response on which areas you find interesting and would like to delve deeper into. Specific courses in that college, research projects you may have done, books you have read, courses taken both within and outside your school and college curriculum, and seminars attended are all relevant.

What makes or breaks such an essay is specificity. For example, writing ‘I like Economics because it gives practical perspectives on the world’ is vague. Instead, ‘I like to study economic development theories and have been exploring the impact of liberalisation on poverty in India’ is specific. Saying, ‘I like Psychology because I like to understand people’ is vague but saying, ‘I want to study abnormal psychology and art therapy to recover from trauma’ is specific.

Overall, the key to RAISE the level of your essays is: 

1. Research: the subject you intend to study to understand sub-topics and current areas of research. Read other winning essays; the Internet is teaming with them. 

2. Authenticity: Be you. Say what has not been said before. Give them a glimpse into the real you.

3. In-depth: Go into the details of courses, incidents, research topics, books, seminars… Avoid vague, superficial statements.

4. Simplicity: Avoid big words and “flowery” language.

5. Editing: Keep sentences short and crisp, no more than 25 words each. Proofread to remove all spelling and grammatical errors.

Writing college essays can be a gruelling experience, but many students find that it gives them more clarity and confidence. So, immerse yourself into the journey joyfully. At best, you will find yourself! At worst, well, you may get into the college of your dreams!

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