TODAY   |  December 06, 2010

Art of writing college essays

Jacques Steinberg, a New York Times national education correspondent, shares tips on how to write a first-class essay when submitting a college application.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> this morning on "today's" fashion, the final stretch. most college applications are due on january 1. the next few weeks will be extremely difficult for parents. jock, good morning. this is it, the last chance to polish up those college essays.

>> there's so many things that come into the mix, your grades, your test scores and your outside activities. and the essay is just one thing in that mix. you want to communicate directly to that admissions office to tell them who you are and what makes you tick.

>> we have some feedback from some admissions officers from very prestigious colleges. compare john lennon 's imagine to the one performed in glee. so let's take a look at what the applicant wrote that he or she said, i heard it before when john lennon sang it. unfortunately, i did not care much for it. when i watched this episode why the deaf adolescents were singing it, it surprisingly affected me. what was their take on this?

>> there's no formula to these essays, and no one can know for sure because it's so personal reading this. that applicant kind of misjudged the age and sensibilities of the admissions committee. you're dis'ing john lennon over glee and there was some good chance that people appreciated the john lennon version.

>> you've got to be able to support your argument, but also you don't want to offend.

>> you can't know for sure, but in general, there was a sense that that audience probably wouldn't have appreciateded that.

>> the next one is about music. i strode in front of 400 frenzied eighth graders with my arms flung over my fender stratocastered guitar. my hair dangled so low over my face that i couldn't see the crowd in front v of me as i shoulded yeah, yeah in my squeaky teenaged voice.

>> in this one, i think you really get a sense of the person, as opposed to the piece about glee and john lennon , you feel like you're there on that stage with this kid with the hair dangling over his face and how he felt in the sense of the history channel and how he transformed right there. and i also think that nirvana is a little bit older than glee.

>> now another example, this one is an applicant to wesleyan trying to convey some family pride . the indescribable aspect is the history that resonates through that house. for instance the stories of how my uncle mike cut off his index finger with a bit saw and had to have my grandfather drive him to the hospital.

>> this episode landed about the time of the sopranos he talked about how the sauce on the table was never out of a jar, he talked about if you were wise to your grandmother, there was a slap up side the head. and i think the humor just sailed over the heads of the admissions committee. you have to be careful being funny in print.

>> and real quickly, the humor worked here, my head throbbed as i closed my eyes and tried to convince myself to get up. blankets flying, earning had fallen into place. i had just won another skirmish in my on going battle with the crossword puzzle . that one worked.

>> it was funny and it also drew you in, it was the mystery, what was he writing about? and it was her love of words. it was a great metaphor for your college application .

>> what should parents roles be? do you get involved in the writing?

>> definitely don't get involved in the writing. somebody should proofread that's say if nothing else for typos and for grammar. and if you know your relationship with your child, maybe it's a little bit contentious at this time of year, ask a neighbor or a teacher, but whatever that person does, they should not change that person's voice.

>> you say the end game processes narrow the list in terms of your essays?

>> at this point at as a parent, they're narrowing the list of the college. you're sort of there riding herd if they can't apply to college, they probably can't hack it in college.

>> exercise restraint if you can.

>> head to "today" show come and read some more.