Writing Help

Admission Essays

How to Be Remembered

It is very helpful to be remembered by admissions officers--and to be remembered as favorably as possible. What are your strongest memories of other people? What are your strongest memories of characters on television or in a book? In many cases, these are the kinds of things that admission officers will remember about you. Keep in mind, however, that experiences of a person in real life involve data that can be hard to express in a short essay. Seeing a characteristic smile is different from reading about it. And yet an experience is gone in a moment, while an essay can be read again and again. Choose a topic that might lock something good into your readers' minds, and then write about it with the goal of locking it in.

You are more likely to be remembered favorably when something good stands out in your essay. This usually means writing about something (1) specific, (2) unusual or startling, and (3) personally meaningful.

1. To be specific, choose a subject that can be treated in a short essay. Don't write, for instance, about the role of religion in the public schools, if you can write about a particular issue that serves as an example of your larger point, such as what you think about the "moment of silence" that begins the school day in many schools. Frame a scene using illustrative nouns and verbs: don't use "is" or "has" when you can use "stands out" or "features." In other words, make the characters in your narrative perform meaningful actions or think meaningful thoughts. Once you have constructed a strong set of subjects and verbs in your sentences, carefully and sparingly add or adjust the adjectives and adverbs. Consider adding dialogue at key points.

2. To make your essay unusual or startling, think about experiences that startled you or drew your attention to such a degree that you still remember them. These experiences can be good candidates for essay topics. Don't overdo the narrative, however, with melodrama or other kinds of exaggeration. It is enough to evoke the scene and provoke some emotion. For example, see if you remember this story a week from now:

"We were riding on a crowded minibus in Turkey about a week after another minibus was blown up in a neighboring city. A man ran up carrying a large object with protruding wires and tubes; it was labeled 'air compressor.' He put it on the bus right next to us, said something to the driver, and scurried away. We looked at one another: 'Should we get off the bus?' 'Why is the label in English?' None of the Turkish passengers seemed worried, however, and the bus driver accepted whatever the man had said, so we figured that this kind of event was not unusual. We traveled to the bus station with the 'air compressor' without incident, but with another travel story to tell when we arrived home."

An admissions officer might remember this essayist as "the one who rode on the Turkish minibus with the air compressor"--but encoded in that memory will be the observation that the applicant is an international traveler who has demonstrated appropriate courage and intercultural understanding.

Also, if you are good at writing humorously--that means being truly humorous--people actually laugh out loud at what you write, not just when they're being nice--a really funny essay can do wonders.

3. Essays that are personally meaningful are much easier to write successfully than essays about subjects that hardly move you. Something that stands out to you is likely to stand out to someone else. After you choose such a topic, the next task is to determine which details make your experience or your idea so meaningful. Here is where free writing--recording all of your thoughts about the experience or the idea you have--can be especially useful. You might type 1,000 words or more before you hit on the central detail that is the essence of the subject. Another method for getting to the most meaningful details is to spend time in conversation with someone about the topic. The pressure of coming up with things to say, combined with the need to answer questions about your topic, will help you focus on the most important points.