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On Making Your Application Sound Right
Aman Majmudar
University of Chicago 2024

Writing your application with the right tone and frame can help you make an excellent impression on admissions officers.

Here are some things you might want to consider:

Convey Genuine Motivations
Colleges want to know that you did your extracurriculars not to prepare yourself for college admissions, but because you were genuinely interested. Think about why you did your activities. Did you participate in an international olympiad because you have intellectual curiosity? Did you start a business because you care about serving and giving value to others? Did you write a book because you have a mission to convey complex ideas in simple words? Find what has motivated your activities and stress that in your application.

Craft a Story
Admissions officers want to know the person behind the test scores and grades, so your application—the essays, additional information, and descriptions of activities—should be a story conveying central themes. The themes should show the officers how you will add value to their institution. Do you have a mission to end global warming? An excellent environmentalist is self-directed, a good leader, and steadfast. So, convey these personality traits in your application to show that you have what it takes to lead your field.

Avoid Victimizing Yourself
Many applicants want to convey that they’ve overcome obstacles. But there will always be someone who has been through more. So, don’t stress how bad your circumstances were; instead, explain the circumstances as they happened and narrate how you overcame them. A compelling narrative will detail how you have changed and what you have learned.

Be Likeable
How much admissions officers like you personally can greatly influence their decision. Would the admissions officer want to be your roommate or friend? So, even though you might want to stress how seriously you take school and your passions, try to inject some humor into your essays or convey that you lead a balanced life and are fun to be around. After all, the admissions officers are trying to see how well you would fit in their class.

Write Well
Top schools want to see that you write well: it is a definite mark of intelligence. To sharpen your writing, follow good writing principles detailed in Coursera writing courses or books like The Elements of Style and On Writing Well. You should focus on improving your clarity and concision; mastering just these two skills will set you apart. And start your essays early so that you have time to craft many drafts, many improvements. Generally, the more drafts you go through, the better. Ernest Hemingway once rewrote a paragraph 50 times.