The Perfect College Essay? Check Your Exaggeration, Drama And Self-Aggrandizing At The Door

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The essays are typically the most stressful part of the college application process. (Flickr)

It's that time of year again. Otherwise well-adjusted high school seniors melt down in stress-induced tantrums and parents hover over their desks demanding, "Is it done?"

The issue, of course, is the college application essay. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, about 750,000 students will be writing them this season, as they apply to anywhere between three and 15 school each.

This leaves students and parents asking: What makes a good essay? And what makes a bad one? Educational consultant Dave Marcus joins Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson to offer his advice.

Interview Highlights: Dave Marcus

On the three biggest mistakes students make

“There are a lot of mistakes, but I would name three of them: 1) They take way too long to start—they warm up their engines I like to say. 2) They are really vague and we don’t get a sense of who they are. 3) A lot of kids feel they have to boast, they have to impress the admissions office—it’s not that way; it’s wrong."

Essay topics to avoid

“When possible, avoid the D’s. The D’s are: divorce, disease, death, disabilities. The reason is that, when you think of a kid who’s lived 17 years, that often is the thing that seems like the most important event—the grandmother dies, somebody was ill in the family, somebody has a disease in the family—but it’s, often, the simpler moments that are far more interesting to go into."

On parents writing their kids' essays

“It’s a huge problem, but I will tell you that someone who reads a lot of essays a year and someone who talks to admissions people all the time, they can, usually, know an authentic 17-year-old’s voice. When adults write them, frankly, they sound like adults writing them and pretending to be 17-year-old’s. It’s terrible … if you are a C student in English and your SAT or ACT scores in English are bad, and all of a sudden you turn in this marvelous, philosophical essay about what the debt crisis means in Africa, somebody knows that something is going on.”


This segment aired on October 29, 2013.


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