10 Tips for writing an unforgettable college essay

By Kristin Diekevers ’07, Associate Director of Admissions

A 17-year old me is sitting at my basement computer, fingers lightly touching the good ol’ Gateway keyboard from yesteryear and…nothing. I’m blank. I’m here to write my college essay, and I’m straining not only on the first sentence, but the topic itself. Sound familiar?

The Common Application is set to go live August 1; it’s time to think about your college essay. Thrilling, right? I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be painful, and it can even be enlightening.

After a decade of reading thousands of college essays submitted to Hope College for admission, here are my top 10 Tips for Writing an Unforgettable College Essay:

  1. Your topic is not OSFA (One Size Fits All). Ask yourself this question: can anyone else write this essay? If the answer is yes, it’s back to the drawing board. Sure others may have a similar topic, but the way you tell your story should be uniquely you.
  2. We want the feels from the start. How do you want us to feel after reading your introduction? Are we balancing on a cliff eager to find out what comes next? Are we shocked by your personal admission? Are we nervous standing on stage with you at your first high school musical? An emotional connection leaves us excited to continue reading.
  3. Reeeelllllaaaaxxxx. Right now, you have time on your side. If you’re feeling wound up trying to organize your thoughts, just start writing and concern yourself with structure later. If writing in your bedroom makes you feel isolated and stuck, a change of scenery could help. It might even be that typing on a computer seems too permanent; grab a notebook and pencil instead.
  4. Review, revise, repeat x3. Remember Writer’s Workshop in elementary school? The writing process is important and should certainly be applied to your college essay, so be sure to proofread after each draft. You may have to rewrite entire sections of your essay, and though it can be frustrating, the end result will be something you’re proud to submit.
  5. It’s not a text, tweet or #nofilter. Don’t write like it is. You must use capital letters and punctuation. A series of generic one-liners will not produce a cohesive story nor can 140 characters. You may find inspiration through your social media, but put your filter on knowing your writing will be read by professionals.
  6. Develop your narrative. No term papers allowed. I have no doubt you did your research when you wrote about Kate Chopin’s motivation for writing The Awakening or the religious principles of the Puritans who settled in the United States. I will also be eager to learn about this when we talk. For your college essay, though, it’s all about painting a picture through the story you tell.
  7. Does your essay sound like you? It should. Over your high school career you have developed your own writing style, your own voice. That includes how you organize your thoughts, use punctuation, and what words you use (and don’t use). If one of your editors suggests a word that you know instantly doesn’t sound like you, don’t take his/her advice.
  8. We’ve read the rest of your application. Don’t pretend like we haven’t. When you apply for a job, your cover letter should not simply restate everything that can be found on your resume. Similarly, I end an application review by reading the essay. Though you may highlight an event or activity listed in your application, it should not be a summary of it or what you gained from each activity of which you were a part.
  9. Who else has read it? Admissions committees are made up of diverse individuals and personalities. It’s important the people reading your essay before you turn it in are diverse too. Choose people who know you well (parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, youth pastor) and those who don’t (a parent’s co-worker, a teacher’s spouse, the gang who has coffee with your grandpa every Friday morning). Collect their feedback and refer to #4 above.
  10. All good things must come to an end…a really good one. It’s time to wrap it up no more than 650 words later. Ending your story well is as important as starting it. Establish your take-aways and remember those feels.

Keep this in mind: your essay will be one piece of your larger application, and for most colleges, it will not be the sole item that makes (or breaks) your chances for admission. Head over to Common Application and get started (or continue) telling your story.

Need Me This Summer? I’ll Be in the Lab

Meet Anna Lunderberg. Don’t let the relaxed pose in the hammock fool you. This summer, Anna is hard at work on campus, doing things like studying the brain tissue of rats and running Western blots. (Yeah, I had to Google that, too.)

Anna, a soon-to-be sophomore at Hope, is collaborating with biology and chemistry professor Dr. Leah Chase on neuroscience research through the summer. For Anna, who is still uncertain about her major, this is a great opportunity to explore possibilities.

Anna came to Hope last year thinking she would be a physics major. During the summer of 2016, before her freshman year had even started(!), she participated in lab-based research at Hope with physics professor Dr. Jennifer Hampton. During the fall semester, Anna continued her physics research and participated in Hope’s Phage Discovery program. Students in this program do microbiological and molecular research to isolate, identify and investigate phages (viruses that infect bacteria.) They then share their discoveries in public databases used by researchers worldwide.

So, by the end of her first year, the Phage program had made Anna a bona fide researcher. What’s more, the program drew her into the biochemistry lab, where she discovered interests beyond physics.

Today in the lab, Anna is conducting research that will benefit mental health treatment. She studies rats that have been exposed to a derivative of homocysteine, a chemical found in higher concentration in the blood of individuals with neuropsychiatric disorders. She then determines if these rats respond better to lithium, a common treatment for bipolar disorder, or ketamine, a common treatment for depression. Using Western blots, Anna also studies how the proteins in the rats’ brains changed. The goal is to better understand the neurochemical changes associated with neuropsychiatric disorders.

“Even though things don’t always work the first time, it’s such an amazing feeling when things go right or everything falls together,” says Anna. “Procedures don’t always go well, but this is a universal part of science, and there is such a supportive environment here since everyone is going through the same thing.”

On any given day, Anna’s work is varied and well-supported, thanks to the active summer research community at Hope. She may be running tests in the lab, examining published research in her area, presenting her own findings to faculty and students or participating in weekly seminars. And, with programs like Chemistry Club’s Tuesday night beach picnics, she’s having fun with others her share her interests.

At Hope, you’ll hear a lot about collaborative student-faculty research. You’ll also hear about opportunities to participate in graduate-school-style research. Anna Lunderberg is making the most of both of these, and in the process making Hope a better and more interesting place.

What to Expect for First Year Advising

Freshman advising is an incredibly laid back experience. The process depends on whether you declare a major your first year.

Not sure on your major yet?

If you don’t declare a major your first year, your advisor won’t change. Your First Year Seminar professor will be your advisor until you declare your major. There’s no need to worry if you don’t know what you’re going to major in, most programs can still be completed in four years if you declare your sophomore (and in some cases, junior) year. Before classes even begin (during Orientation week), you are required to meet with your advisor to go over the classes you’re enrolled in. Then, at the end of your first semester (and all semesters to follow), you are required to again meet with your professor and go through the classes you’re planning on taking for the following semester.

Declare a major

You can request a professor from the department for your major directly on the major declaration sheet, or you may be assigned an advising professor. You should meet with your new advisor, especially if you’ve never met them before, just so the two of you can get to know each other outside of the constraints of a classroom. From there, your advisor can give you specific, thoughtful advice regarding your major, and the classes they believe would be best for you.

Your advisor is the person who can help you with just about anything and everything. They’re there for you and they want to help you, and watch you succeed. They can help you figure out what classes would be best for you and help you find internships and summer jobs. They can be excellent references on resumes, and a great source of guidance.

Your responsibilities are to take initiative in scheduling appointments and having a valid reason to meet with your advisor. Whatever you schedule an appointment for, you should be prepared for the meeting. For example, when you have your semestral meeting with your advisor regarding classes to take, you should have the classes you’re planning on taking already in mind to share with them.

Exploring majors

Hope’s liberal arts emphasis allows you to explore multiple possible majors, while still working towards graduation. This means that you’re free to take courses ranging from the arts to math, and still receive helpful credits along the way. Hope also offers a career development center where you can take tests that show you which field you would be best in. Your advisor is another great source of advice when exploring majors and planning for your future. 

An Internship Abroad | LivItaly Tours

Studying abroad opens up a lot of experiences that wouldn’t usually be available in the average semester at college. One aspect of the program with IES is the chance to apply for a part-time internship. While doing an internship in itself can be done any semester at home, interning abroad provides the opportunity to experience the work culture of another country.

This semester I got the opportunity to have an internship with LivItaly Tours, a family-owned tour company that sets itself apart with its small group (6 people max) and private tours throughout Rome, Venice, Florence, and other Italian cities. I get to be a part of creating and editing content for their travel blog.

woman taking photo of Roman forum
That’s my supervisor, Louise, taking a picture in the forum while we were on LivItaly’s VR tour

Along with the internship, there was a once-a-week seminar with other interns where we discussed all kinds of aspects of an internship and cultural differences. My favorite part of that class was getting to hear about everyone else’s internship.  Some worked in a big office, or a cooking class, or one-on-one with just their supervisor. Some faced language barriers, others worked with Americans now living in Italy. While we all worked in Rome, we each had experiences unique to our placements.

My internship was in an apartment building around a big table with 3 or 4 other people at the beginning of the semester. Now, with a few new interns joining the team, we have around 8 of us in the office at one time. Plus, my favorite coworker, Dorris. Her job is to be cute, greet everyone that comes in, and carry her bone from person to person trying to tempt us to stop work and play instead.

Any day is a good day when Dorris says hello

An internship is always a great way to build a resume, learn some new skills, interact with new people, etc. What I ended up appreciating the most though, was having something productive be a regular part of my routine as I figured out life in Rome. Adjusting to a new culture, living in a big city for the first time, and not knowing anyone wasn’t an easy or quick process. Throughout that transition of finding my way to feeling good about myself and living in Rome, I valued having my internship as one of “my places.”

Just like I have my apartment, my walking route to school, my favorite gelato place, grocery store, park, historic site – all these little places that become familiar and make a place become a kind of home. My internship was the my place to go, interact with people I knew, and be productive. It has been something I really appreciated as a part of my study abroad experience.

While you might consider doing an internship for the typical, professional growth kind of reasons, you might come to find that, like me, it becomes a lot more.

Happy Birthday, Rome!

On Friday, Rome celebrated it’s 2,770th birthday! The official founding date of Rome is April 21st, 753 B.C. All weekend there were historical re-enactments culminating in a huge parade reminding me that the Roman people truly cherish and take pride in the rich history of the city they call home.

The Most Brief History of Rome You’ll Ever Read

Legend has it that twins, Romulus and Remus, were raised by a she-wolf. Eventually Romulus killed his brother and became the founder which is why we call the city Rome, not Reme.

Romulus became the first of the seven kings of Rome. However, the people weren’t happy with the monarchy (a preference that would come back to haunt Juilus Caesar later) and decided make a change. Fun way to remember a nice Jeopardy worthy trivia fact – the the last king Tarquinius Superbus, who was driven out of Rome.

Then came the Roman Republic [510-23 B.C.] where the ruling class, the Patricians, were the elite, wealthy, men of Rome. Every year the senate elected two consuls to lead them. Rome then began to wage war and expand its territory. One of the most notable, the Punic Wars, included three wars between Rome and Carthage, involved elephants, and ultimately resulted in Rome destroying Carthage and expanding into North Africa.

Mean Girls Roman history referemce

Occasionally the senate would appoint an emergency dictator who held imperium, complete power, until the issue, usually a war, was resolved. Best example of someone weilding imperiumCincinnatus. Worst example: Julius Caesar, who declared himself dictator for life which was too close to a king for the people’s liking. A group of senators plotted together and just totally stabbed Caesar 33 times during a senate meeting, and effectively sped up the transition from the Republic into the one man rule of the Empire that the senate was trying to avoid in the first place.

Augustus, Caesar’s adopted heir, avenged his predecessor’s murder and eased his way into becoming the first emperor of Rome. From then on, until around the 5th century B.C, the Roman Empire stood under the rule of emperors.

And there you have an incredibly brief, basic overview of Ancient Rome.

Natale di Roma

So, yesterday I got to go to a parade! It started at the Circus Maximus, the race track of ancient Rome. At one end of the track dozens of legions of Roman soldiers, groups of gladiators, preiestesses, and Vestal Virgins were lined up. Two commentators were speaking which probably really added to the experience, but my limited Italian vocabulary meant I understood numbers, happy birthday, and random words here and there.

Vestal Virgin torch lighting ceremony

Before the parade, the standard bearer of every legion lit a torch in a ceremony with the Vestal Virgins. The Vestal Virgins were a group of female priestesses who were in charge of tending the eternal flame of Rome. If the flame went out, bad things would happen. So, the flame was an important symbol and superstition in ancient Rome.

After the opening ceremony, the parade began. There were dancing priestesses, soldiers showing off their testudo battle formation, and emperors with their wives.

Overall, it was a fun weekend in Rome with so much to see and remind you of how important the long history of this city is to its people.

Thanks for reading,
Erin

Senior Struggle #7: Rejection Can Be Good

I hope that I can remember this every time I face rejection in my life!

Happy Tuesday, readers. Only a few more days until Easter Break – I know you all can push through!

Something that has been on my mind a lot this semester is what to do this summer. It’s on everyone else’s mind too, but especially seniors as graduation is just around the corner. Fortunately, I know what I’m doing this summer so a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders, but for many people, there is still the looming uncertainty that summer will bring.

“Will I move home after graduation?”

“When will I hear back from that job that I applied for and really want?”

“When will I know what I’m doing with my life?”

These are just a few stressful questions that I’m sure everyone has been asking themselves, especially seniors. In lieu of these questions, I want to focus on rejection and how it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

People see rejection in their lives mainly by not getting jobs, internships, or acceptance into student groups. Those are the most visible ways rejection rears its head, but there is also rejection in relationships, friendships, and other areas of your life. Getting turned down for a date, being overlooked or losing touch within a friendship, or getting a poor grade after working hard on your homework are other ways that rejection is poignant in life. I’ve experienced all of these types of rejection, and although the rejection stings, in many ways I’m happy the rejection happened.

If it weren’t for the different types of rejection I’ve been through, namely rejection from internships and employers, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s hard sometimes to see the good that comes out of rejection in the moment, but that bad grade or the denial of entry from that student group could open up your schedule for something that you want to live into.

It’s may be hard to see now, but rejection can be beneficial. I hope everyone is able to see that as graduation nears and summer worries start to pile up.

Until next time!

Senior Struggle #6: It’s OK to Want an End

As I get ready to graduate, I have to keep this saying in mind!

Hello, readers! I hope your week is going well so far! We have five weeks of school left, and those weeks are flying by! The time passing quickly is sad as I realize that my final year of college is coming to a close, but at the same time, I’m happy that it will be done soon and I will be able to start a new chapter of my life.

Throughout this second semester, I’ve felt that it hasn’t been okay to feel that I wanted college to be over. College is supposed to be the best four years of your life, right? While these years have been amazing, I feel like there is a reason that college is only four years: because at this point, I’m supposed to grow up. I’ve outgrown communal living where I have to share a bathroom (even though I’m living with my best friends), I’ve outgrown classwork, even though I know I’m learning a lot in my classes, and I’ve especially outgrown the feeling that I have to do everything and be busy to be the best version of myself.

I’m ready for independence. Hope has prepared me well to use the skills I’ve learned in class for internships and jobs. I’m ready to live into things I’m passionate about and I’m ready to say no to things that are a source of stress. I’m ready for my own space; I’m ready to find out who my close friends are, and I’m ready for a new chapter of my life to begin.

For a long time I thought that this readiness wasn’t normal and that I was being selfish because I wanted to move on from college. I would suppress these feelings and try to be sentimental when people asked me if I was ready to graduate. “No way!” I’d say, “I want to stay here forever!” But that wasn’t true!

Although Hope has given me skills and memories that I’m thankful for, I don’t think this feeling of wanting to move on is bad for me. It’s one I’ve definitely had to come to terms with, but I think every senior has been or is going through the struggle of feeling like they want to stay and go at the same time. What’s important is knowing what these feelings mean for you individually, and how they affect you.

Whether you’re a freshman or a senior and these last weeks come and go, enjoy the time you have left at Hope, but also be at peace with what you’re feeling. Until next time!