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EDUCATION: SMART RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS AND PARENTS

Counselors Offer Tips on Cogent Persuasion

November 18, 1998|LYNN O'DELL

Caught up in his essay about a passion for fishing, one college applicant fastened the pages together with a fishing hook instead of a paper clip or staple. An unwary admissions officer got it caught in his page-turning thumb and had to visit the emergency room.

College counselor Lila Beavans of Academic Direction in Villa Park uses the story to caution against being too clever. Here are some other do's and don'ts on writing a personal statement from private counselors and college admissions officers.

Do:

* Write about something that excites you. What is the passion in your life?

* Use personal voice. Write an essay that only you could write.

* Answer the question. Describe an experience but remember to answer the question, "What did it mean to you?"

* Be specific. If a trip to Mexico to work with orphans changed your life, explain exactly how. Give examples.

* Discuss circumstances that have held you back or made your academic numbers look odd. Students who have had to juggle full-time jobs with school or care for a sick family member should say so.

* Use good grammar and structure. Eliminate unnecessary words.

* Read it over and ask yourself, "What does this say about me?"

Don't:

* Be cute. Humor is hard to pull off, and 17-year-old humor is not 45-year-old admissions officer humor.

* Put the wrong school's name in the essay. Students often use one essay for more than more application, and may send to Harvard the version that discusses what they can bring to Princeton.

* Go thesaurus-wild and sprinkle the essay with big words.

* Select a tiny type font.

* Manufacture hardship.

* List your accomplishments. That's another part of the application. Instead, focus on one accomplishment and what it means to you.

* Use books with examples of essays someone else has written.

* Extrapolate from the small to the grandiose. Many boys write about a race they won in spite of a sprained ankle and conclude that because they won the race, they can win anything.

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