These days, most colleges — including the University of Massachusetts Amherst — use a holistic admissions review. This means that prospective students are seen as more than just numbers on paper. Factors like personal experiences, strengths, and compatibility with the university are also considered. So, how do you use this to your advantage? You write an unforgettable essay that makes you stand out to admissions officers. Here are some tips to do just that:
Have a good hook.
Put yourself in an admissions officer’s shoes for a second: its two p.m., you’re on your fourth cup of coffee and your thirtieth essay of the day. All of the words are starting to look the same, and your mind is drifting to your happy place on some tropical island. Suddenly, you are jolted out of your daydream by some obscure one-liner that starts someone’s essay. "One fun fact about me is that two summers ago, I ate a raw goat kidney," (that was my one-liner). Having a good hook captivates your reader, and makes your essay instantly stand out.
Find your X factor, and weave it in nicely.
By X factor, I mean anything about you that is unique, interesting, and somewhat brag-worthy. For me, it was the fact that I had eaten a raw goat kidney, traveled to Tanzania, and had lots of academic and work experiences. My full intro was:
"One fun fact about me is that two summers ago, I ate a raw goat kidney. If you are wondering what that was like; it was like a gusher but filled with warm lumpy chunks of blood. Incidentally, another fun fact about me is that two summers ago, I became a vegetarian. I ate the goat kidney as part of a sacrificial ritual performed by the Maasai tribe when I was in Tanzania for a service trip. After the ritual, I was initially nauseated and repulsed by what they were doing. It seemed like they were inhumanely slaughtering innocent animals and then ripping them apart just because of their religious beliefs. However, eventually, once I was able to reflect on the experience and once the taste of blood had left my system, I was able to see a certain beauty in the way the Maasai used every part of the goat in order to create a respectful ritual and meaningful experience. Similarly, in the Communication Arts Program at my school, I have had many projects and opportunities that I feel have put me in unfamiliar situations and have enabled me to grow as a person and as a student and have meaningful experiences."
In this paragraph, I was able to share some personal details about me, as well as show why they made me a good prospective student in relation to the prompt. Also, be sure to look up the values of whatever school you are applying to. At UMass Amherst, we value diversity and acceptance — so you better believe I made it clear that I was aligned with those values as well.
Show, don't tell.
With that being said, it is important to strike a good balance between storytelling and fact-giving. Too many facts can make your paper boring to read, while too much storytelling can weaken your paper by not effectively showing the admissions officer why you make a good candidate. If you want the admissions officer to know you're a creative, intuitive, qualified student, don't write, “I am a creative, intuitive and qualified student.” Instead, write a creative, insightful paper that also mentions your qualifications.
As much as a great essay can help you, a bad essay can also hurt you. Any typo in your paper can taint your application, so make sure you read it carefully before submitting it! If you get the chance, ask someone else to read your essay as well. He or she will often catch an error you missed. The reality at large schools like UMass Amherst is that it's impossible for admissions officers to meet every applicant. Sometimes the only way to put a face to an applicant is by hearing the voice in their essay. Keeping these tips in mind will help make your essay stand out.