Whatever your politics, you can agree that presidential debates can bring out the best in people—or the worst. (Fun nerdy fact: Historians say the introduction of the first televised debate handed JFK his victory against Nixon in 1960.) Some people onstage look calm, educated, and even presidential. Others look mean-spirited, angry, and even unstable.
So what does that have to do with the admissions essay? Republican or Democrat, you have to come across as LIKABLE in your personal statement. Based on countless interviews with admissions officers, that is the #1 quality they look for when making the decision to accept you or not. So how do you that exactly?
1) Don't Brag
I know this seems counter-intuitive because your instinct is shouting BUT I MUST IMPRESS THESE PEOPLE! Here's what you have to remember: admissions officers have already read the rest of your application when they read your admissions essay so they know about your killer GPA & extracurricular hours. What they don't know? Who you are besides a list of activities & SAT scores. Your essay should speak to your defining characteristics and show your personality. For example, you could show your leadership by describing a key conflict you solved when you were head of the debate club or you could show your family values by describing helping your younger sister do her homework every night.
2) Don't Lie
Just like the debates are endlessly fact-checked, so too is your application. Do not risk throwing everything away for a little white lie about an accomplishment you had nothing to do with. Admissions officers are trained to look for red flags like inconsistencies or unrealistic successes.
3) Don't Be Negative
No one likes a sore loser, especially the people deciding if you should join their campus. We've all had our troubles, but what the admissions officers are looking for is how you grew from them, not who you blamed for them. If you've had less-than-stellar grades or other shortcomings on your application, this is a perfect opportunity to own up—without pointing fingers—in a way that will humanize you and show how you're overcoming adversity.
4) Don't Sound Rehearsed
You can be humble, truthful, positive, but still have one major downside most students don't consider. You don't want your essay to seem overedited and not sound like you anymore. The voice and tone need to be yours. Don't overdo the language by trying to impress admissions officers with fancy words you found in your thesauraus or by pretentious academic language that you would never say out loud. If you use an editing service like mine, I would be wary of consultants that try to make you sound like a Harvard professor instead of a normal teenager. Even while I perfect your essay for tone, topic, and storytelling, I always preserve your voice.