Lesson Three – Short Essays
Some schools require you to write a series of short essays rather than submit a single personal statement. If this is the case for you, then you should consider the impact that your essay set will have as a whole. You need to balance the structure and content of the set as much as you do within each essay individually. Yet, with these challenges come several advantages. More essays means more opportunity to sell yourself. Multiple essays give you ample space to do justice to all the different areas of your life, avoiding the pitfall of cramming too many points into one essay. And, you can take more risks being creative in one essay, while providing other traditional essays, thus appealing to readers with different tastes.
When you are required to answer multiple questions, there is often a strict word limit for each answer. But even though each essay is short, each one requires as much attention as long essays. The best way to approach a short essay is to write a regular, full-length essay and then cut it down. Let yourself write as long as you feel inspired, without time limits or length constraints. After you have the ideas on paper, go back and look for the pieces of gold buried under all of the words. Begin by reducing the introduction and the conclusion from one paragraph to one sentence each. Choose only the clearest, most direct parts.
Some short-answer questions ask for lists of activities, jobs, or honors. There are two approaches to answering such a question: the list and the paragraph. For each, provide complete information about the items you are listing, following the same format for each list. Include the activity, your involvement, and the time commitment. Make it clear that your activities have involved responsibility and effort. And don’t worry about the number of activities you list — when it comes to quality, less is often more.
We have stressed in numerous places throughout this course the importance of proofing your essays and getting feedback. While most applicants are stringent about taking this step after writing individual essays, some forget to apply the same advice to their essay set as a whole. Before you send in your application, assess the impression that your essays will make when taken together.
- Are my main points evident?
- Are there redundancies or apparent contradictions between essays?
- Is a coherent image presented throughout the essays and does each essay contribute to the same image?
- Is a consistent voice and style used throughout the essays? Does it sound as though they were written by the same person?
- Does the essay set support the impression that is made in the rest of the application?
For examples of short essays, click here.
Essays included from Georgetown, Duke, Dartmouth, and Harvard.