Myth 2 of Top 5 Series: Lies Applicants Tell Themselves about College Admissions Essays

Myth #2:  Even if I'm more enthusiastic and capable of answering a common prompt, I should respond to the more unique OR LEss ANSWERED prompt.

Have you ever taken a multiple-choice test and realized there was a right answer and then there was a “sorta right” answer?  When you were able to decipher between the two, did you ever select the sorta right answer or did you choose the correct one?  I’m sure you chose the right answer and you did so because the answer best fit the question of all the choices provided.

Apply that logic to selection of which essay, personal statement and short essay prompts you answer on your college applications.  When you do have a choice, there is an impulse to strategize and apply a bit of math.  You (along with your parents or even guidance counselors) figure that if you address a prompt that others will shrink from, your answer will be compared against a smaller number of applicants and thus, your chances of being admitted will be better.  Foolishness.  First, please remember that the essay is a very important component, but not the entirety of your application.  Also, not all admissions officers (except for at extremely small colleges) read all of the answers for a given prompt.  So this reasoning is bad math at its wost and sorta right math at its best.

Secondly, “strategy” ONLY makes sense if you have a life experience or revealing moment that squarely addresses the more unique or esoteric prompt.  Why?  Because more nuanced questions require more nuanced and on target answers.  This is less so with more general questions (e.g. How would you describe the world you come from?), though the applicant must still put careful thought, consideration and compelling verbiage into her, his or their response.  Don’t believe me?

Which prompt is “easier” to adequately address?

1)    How are you doing today?

2)    Describe your afternoon mood in juxtaposition to your morning mood and what this comparison (or contrast) reveals about your personality.

Now if you are a person who often experiences a noticeable shift in your morning to afternoon mood, lucky you!  Finally, someone is asking you about it.  If the second question doesn’t apply to you at all or your answer will be too forced and disingenuous, consider the fortunate freedom you have in how you answer the first question.  Yes, many more people will address it, but you can cultivate an answer that is true to you.  Nothing is stopping you from answering a general question with an insightful, one-of-a-kind, mind-blowing and soul-shifting answer.  How are you going to shift anything for admissions readers if they see an answer to Question 1 poorly masquerading as an answer to Question 2?

The answer is that you won’t.

Don’t do that to yourself or your college applications.

Happy writing (and critical thinking),

Leslie D. Poston

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