Navigating the College Supplement

College Horizons Comes to Penn
July 13, 2012
The Penn Supplement: Part I
July 31, 2012

Navigating the College Supplement

“I love the essay because it is the one place that students can put their voices, unfiltered, onto the page.” Patrick Bredehoft, Regional Director

Former English teacher, domestic and international Regional Director of Admissions, and current Director of the Penn Alumni Interview Program, Patrick Bredehoft is an authority on the college essay, including the institution-specific supplement.  In a conversation about this component of the application, Patrick tunes us into the ways that you can use your skills as readers and writers, honed during your high school years, to put together strong texts.

“If you are thinking in novelistic terms, each individual school should be the setting for where the essay takes place,” Patrick notes.  Basic due diligence–using the right school’s name for each piece, checking your spelling of professors’ names, etc.–is the foundation for a deeper discussion of place.  To create a powerful setting for your institution-specific essay, draw from the online research you’ve done and connect these details to your own story… past, present, and future.  Don’t reuse paragraphs.  Do the work of creating distinct essays.

Be an authentic narrator.  Remember the connection you might have felt to Scout’s voice in To Kill a Mockingbird or Holden Caulfield’s in Catcher in the Rye.  Patrick suggests “writing in a way that is true to your experience and aspirations.”  Your reasons for attending “shouldn’t be your mom’s reasons, your brother’s, or best friend’s, but your own.”  You will not find an archetypical answer to any essay question.

Patrick also urges students to “think back to their favorite novel,” noting that “a really good story has recognizable settings, people, and themes.”  It is understandable to want to be unique in how you approach your essays given the number of applications your admissions officer reviews.  Yet, originality starts with authenticity rather than abstract poetry.  “If you are truly being authentic, you are also being original,” Patrick says.  “No one else in the world has had the same experiences and those experiences certainly haven’t passed through the same mind.”  Originality does not exclude familiarity.

Remember to give yourself time; good writing requires several drafts.  Acknowledging the number of supplemental essays that applicants will write, Patrick notes, “Something is better than nothing and something bad is better than nothing good.”  Some of these essays might take several weeks, and multiple drafts, to reach a finished product but know that the effort you put in will ultimately resonate with the person reading them.  Start writing now and see where your voice, creativity, and passion take you.

Check back next week to look at the process–and purpose–of writing college supplements though the lens of the new Penn essays.

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