Admissions Essay Gimmicks Not to Fall For (The Hashtag Essay is Not a Thing)

Writing the admissions essay is so stressful that I don't blame students for reading about seemingly easy, out-of-the-box approaches and thinking, well, if it worked for this guy, why not me? The problem with such methods, though, is you're not the only one thinking that. Once an admissions trick becomes a trend (and a national news story), it's no longer out of the box. Translation: instead of looking creative, you look lazy.

Nicki Minaj side eye

Ziad Ahmed was accepted to Stanford after writing "#BlackLivesMatter" over and over for his application essay. The surprising approach worked in this case because it was authentic. Ziad provided his activist bona fides with the rest of his application: the admissions officers saw that he was dedicated to the cause because he founded Redefy, a nonprofit organization that advocates for social justice, freshman year. That's four years of commitment to making change, which makes his essay sincere and not gimmicky.

Most admissions officers recommend sticking to the personal essay format and not writing a poem or something similarly off-script. If anything, I would argue Ziad got very lucky and was accepted despite his non-traditional essay. Don't give in to temptation & stick with a compelling personal narrative instead. Take risks with the content—not the format.