Tip From Lance: The Perfect Essay

Hello readers; this is Lance, writing from my home in Kirkland House. Here at Harvard I study Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, volunteer with Youth to Youth Harvard Square and Stories for Orphans, am an HSA tutor, and I like to get involved in the writing and poetry scene wherever I can.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been in love with words. And when you’re taking the SAT or applying to college, you come to appreciate the gravity and importance of words. Your voice is powerful, and it’s key to making a memorable impression with scorers and admissions officers.

I have to admit that there were many questions and prompts that I faced in high school that stopped up my voice like a cork. The prompts on tests, the Common App or other applications, plus writing supplements for many colleges can serious curveballs, and crafting a good response essay can feel like trying to push down a mountain. I was used to jumping through hoops and trying to impress people with the “right answer”—that’s high school, after all. So, when it came time to answer serious, philosophical promts, I too often pulled my hair out trying to imagine the “correct” answer. What are they looking for? What do they want? If I say all the right things, they’ll give the nod of approval.

The problem is, this didn’t work. At all. For me or for any of my peers facing the same problem. It’s a high school habit, and it will get you far in certain respects, but it comes short when you’re entering the world of higher education. If you give the same cookie-cutter “perfect” answer to a prompt, the reader is going to yawn and toss it in the bin with a thousand other student responses that sound exactly like yours.

What really tied my brain in a knot was the question: “What is really important to you?”

I don’t know! I thought. That’s a stupid question. A lot of things are important to me, but they’re silly, personal, and not that interesting. But that was all I had, and I just could not come up with a way to sound cooler. So I just wrote what came naturally, the answer that came right from the heart. And when I was finished, I’d made the best essay response of my high school career. I wrote about the way service brings me satisfaction and contentment, and how I feel a duty to improve both the community and myself. I wrote about the books I read as a child, about heroes who showed courage, selflessness, and chivalry, and how those principles shaped my life and my views.

That’s the trick: be honest, be true to yourself. Don’t base your essay on what the reader might think of you, but stop and think about how you would respond to a prompt if you weren’t afraid to show who you really are and brandish your own reasons for defending your viewpoint. This will show who you really are, and will be the best possible showcase for your writing skills, while also making the essay process easier and more rewarding. You are unique, and so your honest answer is a unique and powerful one—powerful enough to get a second look from your reader, and make your essay shine out the crowd.

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