It's College Essay Crunch Time at CU-Boulder
Prospective students try to pen perfect paper by Dec. 1 deadline

Daily Camera
November 27, 2009

By Brittany Anas, Camera Staff Writer

It took 10 or so drafts before Megan Ward was satisfied with the college application essays that she'll be sending off to the University of Colorado.

"If I felt like it didn't flow, I'd start over," said Ward, a high school senior in Brentwood, Calif.

The long Thanksgiving weekend is crunch time for college-bound students as they use the extra time off to put together their college applications and crank out essays. College admissions counselors say the essays give another dimension to applicants, giving context that can't be derived from grade point averages and test scores alone.

Ward, a student-government leader, who is leaning toward business as a major, settled on writing about her older sister, a college student, as a role model. Her primary essay is about how she wants to develop life-long friendships, and traditions to tie her to her college, and discover a career that fits her best.

"I'm a mountain kind of girl," said Ward, who is applying to CU and nine colleges in her home state.

Steven Roy Goodman -- an educational consultant based in Washington, D.C., and the author of "College Admissions Together: It Takes a Family" -- tells students that writing their essays helps them psychologically prepare for college. Writing essays requires applicants to think about what skills and ideas they can bring to college, he said.

Goodman's advice for penning essays: "Avoid clichés. Try to tell a story. And ask not what your college can do for you, but what you can do for your college."

At CU-Boulder, admissions counselors read every essay that comes in -- regardless of whether applicants' test scores and GPAs strongly qualify them for admission.

The admissions office has a Facebook "fan page," and students are buzzing about their essays as the Dec. 1 early notification deadline approaches. Students who apply by that deadline will receive admissions decisions by Jan. 15. The second deadline is Jan. 15, and students will be notified by April 1.

Some students plead that they can't confine their essays to the maximum word limit, to which counselors suggest they have a high-school teacher or counselor recommend possible trims.

Admissions director Kevin MacLennan said that 17 staff members are in charge of reading essays from about 25,000 applicants, including transfer students.

MacLennan has read a wide range of essays, with narratives about students battling cancer or struggling with hunger issues particularly standing out.

"Students are trying to find out what we're looking for," MacLennan said. "The true answer is that the best essays are the ones that are most important to students. There is no template for a perfect essay. As we read the essays, we hear such beautiful student voices."

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