College Application Essay Transitions


Moving Fluidly From Paragraph to Paragraph

The beginning of the college application process marks the beginning of transitioning, from home and high school to college and beyond. This journey of moving from one place and state-of-mind to another can be practiced, and nearly perfected, in application essay writing. I call it the Art of the Seamless Transition. A reader might not even know when a writer has nailed this “move” because of its magic: Thought A has morphed into Thought B with a slight build in information conveyed and theme reinforced. Most seniors struggle with this skill when writing their common application essay and supplemental essays, so I’ve come up with a few helpful hints to make these cognitive leaps a bit less jarring for admission officers:

Read “Last & First” Aloud

You know it sounds wrong when you hear it. An off note in music, a word that either doesn’t mean what the writer intended or for whatever reason isn’t le mot juste. And then there’s a whole sentence that makes no sense because it has no antecedent in the paragraph that came before so who knows what the writer will mindlessly plop down next. By about Draft 4, I ask my students to read the last line of one paragraph and the first line of the following BEFORE sending their essay to me for editing. If a student doesn’t like reading their own work, then they can ask a parent or a pal. It’s important for them to hear the music and lyricism of their work. They’ll usually know when they’ve made too big an assumption when jumping to a fresh paragraph or when their last/first sentences don’t flow. 98% of the time, mistakes are caught by the ear.

Build Trust

Three rules that students should abide by when working on their personal statements: Don’t lie; don’t ask or allow your parents, friends or anyone else to write your essays; and don’t let the narrative thread break when you move from paragraph to paragraph. The last one is a great example of where you can lose an admissions officer’s trust. A college applicant does NOT want anyone reading their essay to doubt the sincerity and authenticity of their intention. An analogy: When you’re a passenger in a car and the driver isn’t 100% sure how to get you to your destination, you experience a lack of confidence. That uneasiness is what readers experience when the narrative hits a bumpy paragraph transition. The assuredness that this student knows how to write an entertaining narrative is gone and not easily won back.

Reference Thesis Statement

Though I encourage students to create outlines for their application essays, some politely say no, thanks. And those who take the time to brainstorm a thesis statement often forget to refer back to it. I understand why. Students are told that colleges want creative narratives chock-full of self-expression and individuality, which is true. But these essays still require structure. The best ones I’ve read have been drafted nearly 10 times and are cogent five-paragraph pieces of prose that students are proud of. The final sentences do the heavy-lifting of both carrying the reader to the next paragraph and solidifying the overall theme of the essay while the first sentence often serves to echo the student’s message to a school.

It’s hard during this crunch-time to address these seemingly minor style issues, but sometimes slooooowing down to fine-tune can make the difference between an Acceptance and a Deferral.

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