Before that long-awaited letter of acceptance arrived in the mail, each member of Hamilton's Class of 2007 survived the task of writing a personal admission essay.
Sitting down at the computer to compose a pithy snapshot of one's personality, interests or ambitions can be a daunting task. But it can also go a long way in helping a student stand apart in the admission process.
"Essays provide windows into students' personalities, giving us the chance to learn more about their character, especially what they think, how they think and how well they express themselves," said Lora Schilder, acting dean of admission and financial aid.
The best essays are well-written, of course, but they also reveal something about a student that doesn't show up in a transcript or on a list of extracurricular activities.
"Our advice to students is to 'be yourself.' It's best to look inside yourself, find something you know, have done or have feelings about, and do your best to write it down," Schilder added. "Don't look for a trend or try to guess what we're looking for. If it's honest, well-written and it helps us get to know you, we'll like it."
Other tips from Hamilton's admission officers, who read thousands of essays each year, include: start out with a strong opening that captures our attention in the first paragraph; write to a person, not an institution; hammer out a first draft and then cut it in half (and don't forget spell-check!); don't just tell us -- show us with use of active verbs and colorful descriptions.
Can an admission essay be the determining factor in an offer of admission? Schilder acknowledges that although a student's grades throughout four years of high school are a stronger indicator of academic potential, a well-crafted, memorable essay can only help.
New Canaan, Conn.
Alice Dou Wang
West Chester, Pa.