College application essays ask a lot of us. Not only do we have to somehow condense the essence of who we are into a mere 650 words, but we also have to simultaneously persuade college admissions officers that we are, in fact, the best fit for that college. Not to mention, we must also craft this concisely passionate essay to fit one of the Common App’s five categories. And with the college admissions season already two weeks in, the pressure to be eloquent, charming, and appealing is staring all of us right in the face. So, what do we do? Where do we begin?
The answer: look to those who have already done it. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, 3rd Edition is here for you. With analysis by the staff of the Harvard Crimson, each essay comes with insightful opinions on what would have made the essay stronger, what made it weak, and what to change. And while all of the essays came from Harvard-bound students, the quality of authorship varied from student to student, making the book highly relatable to all college-bound kids.
The book, which is a little more than 200 pages long, is organized into four overarching categories: The Survivor, One Among Many, Storyteller, and Through Their Eyes. The Survivor category is all about overcoming challenges and adversity, while One Among Many showcases the unique applicants. The Storyteller is filled with life experiences, and Through Their Eyes is all about finding oneself. With so many essays, there’s bound to be one that resonates with everyone. The stories told range from just speaking too damn fast right up to near-death experiences. The essays and their following commentaries all show writers how to build a personal narrative—a “slice of life” essay—that college admissions officers want to see. The essays in this book don’t cover ending world hunger or how to find world peace; they focus on the students and their lives, who they are, and what they’ve done. Insightful and honest, they give a close look at what separates a great essay from an okay one.
But, perhaps my favorite part of the book was, surprisingly, the preface. Written by the staff of the Harvard Crimson, the preface gives hope to us frazzle and stressed out seniors, too stiff to even begin our own essays, let alone read someone else’s (not to mention, someone who did it well). They acknowledge that not only do we place a lot of stress on ourselves, but so do the people around us. So, while we worry and fuss over how to pull the perfect essay together, the Crimson says otherwise. “The personal statement, however, is a blank slate that allows you to share and emphasize the qualities that make you stand out…the admissions essay provides a much-needed human touch.” And I couldn’t agree more with those of the Harvard Crimson. The essay is there to help us, to show how we’re more than our test scores and grades, because we are, believe it or not, human.
So, if you’re struggling with brainstorming up the perfect topic, why not pick up a copy of the 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays? Any edition will do. Writing the college admissions essay is new to all of us seniors. We have nothing to go off of other than what people tell us. And with 17 years or so of stories jumbled up in our brains, it’s hard to know where to even begin. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays will give you a starting point. The point of the book isn’t to be the kids who wrote the essays, but rather, to be just as personal with your essay as they were with theirs. Find your voice. Your essay is there to help you. Make it count.