Extra Credit Assignment: College Entry Essay/Scholarship Essay

About a decade ago, the UW terminated its 15-year agreement with the Washington state community college system regarding transfer students.  Before then, Washington community college students who achieved a GPA of 2.75 and above were guaranteed admission to the UW.  Those days are gone, however—probably forever.


Now GPA is no guarantee of admission.  Far from it. Instead, the UW considers other aspects of a student’s transfer application in a “comprehensive” process.   That’s true of virtually all colleges and universities now, which emphasize other factors besides GPA.  If you want to be admitted to a 4-year school, you need to demonstrate that you’re more than someone who pulls in a high GPA.  You want to focus your curriculum, perhaps engage in community-service work, expand your education with extra-curricular activities.  You want to be an applicant they believe will be successful, enrich their institution, and make a difference in the world after graduating.


Perhaps the most critical part of your application is the entrance essay or “personal statement.”  The University of Wisconsin admissions department, for example, states, “we cannot overstate the importancethe statements play in our application review and decision-making process.”


This can be a  hard essay to write. I think that’s because few people like to brag about themselves and their accomplishments, which frankly is what you must do in such a piece of writing.  At the same time, you can’t want to appear arrogant or self-centered.  You must walk a fine line between self-promotion and humility.  That’s a tough line to walk.


Admissions committees often look for these qualities in an applicant:


  • clear sense of purpose; you’ve chosen a dream and a goal, and you’re determined to pursue it
  • A demonstrated commitment to community; you want to help the people and better the world around you
  • Intellectual vitality and curiosity; learning is fun to you
  • Eagerness to learn from and work with others, particularly if they are different—socio-economically, ethnically, racially—than you are (the code word is “diversity”)
  • Initiative: you decide your path, and you go for it.  You’re not following someone else’s dream or intentions; you’ve taken command of your future
  • You pursue studies beyond or outside the classroom; the world is your classroom
  • Evidence that you’ve “made an impact” in your school or community; you shape and influence your communities
  • You’ve overcome adversity: you’ve faced the challenges of entering a new culture or language; you come from a family that did not have a tradition of education; you’ve persevered despite personal obstacles, whatever they may be (financial, health, fortune)


They also tend to notice entrance essays that distinguish themselves for their grace, eloquence, and creativity.  You should be careful of being too creative—don’t submit a poem or fable—but you can employ narrative and use imagery to compose a memorable, lovely essay.



And that brings us to perhaps the key point of this assignment: at the end of the day, when the admissions staff  person drives home after a long day of reading hundreds upon hundreds of personal statements, you want them to remember yours.  How do you do that?  In a nutshell, by expressing the voice of a unique human being.  Frankly, hum-drum essays that merely enumerate participation in clubs and awards won and nice  grades are forgettable.  What’s memorable are stories of real people with real dreams.  Tell them who you are, where you came from. Maybe tell the story about a defining episode in your life, one that revealed the “writing on the wall”—that revealed your latent passion.  You want to become a living character to them.  When you become real person to them, they will care about you, and they will want you to succeed.


These essays should be about 3 pages, double spaced. 

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