It’s time to admit it. Almost everyone finds the essay writing part of the admissions process at least somewhat stressful. And with good reason. The essays demand an X-ray-level clarity into one’s past and future. This clarity takes effort and is an effect of knowing oneself. That isn’t easy or natural for most people. Plus, knowing the fact that someone will judge these stories and pass a verdict, adds additional pressure. It could lead to serious writer’s block when you sit down to write those essays late in the night.
If this scenario reflects your reality, the following 4 pointers should help
1) Writing makes writing easier
This is such an obvious concept, that the profoundness of its truth is often overlooked. This is why we have a simple suggestion here – written deliverables to be delivered in writing. Otherwise, multiple brainstorming sessions “talking” about what one is going to write becomes a proxy for the actual writing. In the same way, thinking about writing has diminishing returns. If one doesn’t actually write, only time progresses and not much else.
2) The first draft almost doesn’t matter
This is related to the point above. Trying to perfect that first storyline is often a hindrance to getting started. Rather than attempting a full narrative, it is often helpful to develop a “bulleted” storyline which gives structure to the story. Iterate on this outline. It helps if you have an external person who knows your profile well to help you here. This resource could be a close friend, life partner, or even a consultant engaged in an official capacity. The reason that the first draft doesn’t matter is that in all likelihood, it will change. Many times, the final output of essays submitted to the schools is so different from the starting version, that it seems impossible that the same person was behind it. Treat the first draft as an experiment that has no strings attached to it. As the Nike slogan says “Just Do It”.
3) It’s personal but don’t take it personally
The best writing is not self-conscious but at the same time allows the real persona to shine through. Carl Rogers, the American Psychologist, sums it up the best when he says “What is most personal is most universal”. It’s magical how deeply personal stories resonate universally provided the writer doesn’t take their own stories, with their associated scars and stars, personally.
Here are the opening lines from a few sample essays where the respective authors were objective, authentic, and original when presenting their stories. They narrated the most personal stories, impersonally. It’s no wonder that these essays resonated with Wharton and Harvard adcoms.
# 1 “They have barricaded our base and could enter at any time,” said the security guard.
Through his sweat-filled face, furrowed brow, and rushed voice, I felt his anxiety, panic, and trepidation. There were 15 of us at our operational base in XX, but he looked at me (the only female) to take charge and protect our premises.”
#2 “I didn’t mean to hear them. But the couple behind me was revealing interesting facets of themselves by mutually answering juicy questions they found online. During the 4-hour train ride across England where I unsuccessfully attempted to provide privacy, I witnessed two people falling in love”.
4) Try very hard not to impress
Lastly, the best essays and stories look inward a lot more than they look outward. They resist all temptation to impress the reader. Therefore, it’s never a good idea to refer to previously successful essays. It takes one away from one’s own “voice” and creates a strong temptation to follow what has worked in the past. This is a disservice to one’s own stories. Writing a “small-scale” story in one’s own original voice has a better chance than a “magnum-opus” written using Chat-GPT 😊.
Reach out and we would love to discuss how we can make the writing process more fun for you.