So many people talk about rules as they relate to admissions essays: You should always do this. You can never do that.
Personally, I hate rules. Well, I don’t hate them, really. I just don’t believe in absolutes for the admissions essay, especially regarding topic selection and creative execution. I believe more in a hearty set of guidelines that allow room for personal interpretation and thoughtful risk taking.
In the spirit of debunking some of the more common essay myths, I decided to tackle a few things often labeled as “Taboo” and give them the College Essay Advisors “guideline” treatment.
Okay, Taboo #1: Using curse words in your college essay
Generally speaking, the language in your admissions essay should land somewhere in the realm of polished conversation. Pretend you are talking to a teacher who knows you well. That’s the level of comfort you’re aiming for. Would you curse in front of your French teacher? Probably not. Generally speaking, you’re trying to keep things clean and above board.
That said, what if you were describing your foul-mouthed grandmother’s reaction to dropping an entire carton of eggs (“Oh sh*t!”) while making your seventeenth birthday cake? Cursing can sometimes be effectively used, often in dialogue, to help with character development in this way. (Grandma is a firecracker with kind of a potty mouth.)
Cursing might also be acceptable if you are recounting a story that involved one of these words and is necessary for context. This is one I have seen come up in response to the challenging a belief or idea prompt from the Common Application. Maybe you disagree with the way one of your friends was treated by another one of your peers and a curse word is helpful for context.
And, generally speaking, I would recommend the curse not come from your mouth—unless, again, it’s for a very specific reason. Are you talking about the first time you let the word fly in front of an adult? It might be worth including! (Also, I want to hear that story—it’s probably hilarious.)
Moving on to Taboo #2:Which I’m going to call Drugs, Alcohol, Violence, and Sex, or DAVS
Again for this one, I have a few guidelines. You probably shouldn’t talk about your personal experiences with substances and other illegal activities. (Also, don’t break the law!) Generally speaking, these subjects can be used to establish context and should be treated with the same sensitivity and gravitas as curse words. Perhaps it makes sense to talk about someone you know who is an alcoholic and how their condition affected your life. Maybe a moment where you withstood peer pressure was a moment of pride and transition for you.
I would also recommend using descriptions of violence sparingly. If discussing violence in the context of your background story is important, try to be measured and sensitive in your descriptions.
Also remember that you do not have to write about comfortable or painful experiences. All you need to know is that it is okay to write about these subjects if it’s important to you and if you feel you can treat them respectfully on the page.
As for sex: OMG TMI. Most of the time. Again, there are exceptions. Was there an uncomfortable moment in sex ed worth recounting? Or maybe there is an idea about sexuality or gender worth challenging? If you have already lost your virginity, that is your business, not the admissions department’s. Also if your mother found out, she’d probably be very upset!
And finally, Taboo #3: Discussing your mental health issues in your college essay
There is one major thing students have to keep in mind if they choose to discuss their own mental health in their essays. The ability to challenge your condition and succeed in spite of it needs to be the focus here. Admissions can (and I assume will) not discriminate against students who are dealing with mental health problems. (It’s actually illegal!) That said, in aiming to showcase your strengths, passions, and personality, you are going to want to focus on your triumphs in the face of these challenges. Is your aim to become a nutritionist inspired by your battle with an eating disorder, for example? Mental issues are totally real, totally personal, totally life-changing, and highly relevant to the shaping of one’s personality.
While you’re on break over the holidays, it’s easy to get into a lazy mode where you sit around doing nothing with your days, letting them mesh into one long continual nap fest.
While there is some value in getting shuteye, there’s only so much rest necessary and, to be fair, you do have other, more important things to do.
Like what, you ask? Don’t worry! We’ve compiled a handy list of helpful suggestions of things you could, should and will likely want to do over your holiday break.
So, make the most of every moment – you’ll be happy you did once you’re back into the swing of second semester!
1. Apply for scholarships and internships
If there was ever a time to apply, it’s now! You don’t have to spend the entire break applying for scholarships, but even if you devote a few hours to your scholarship applications; it will make a world of difference in your search. After all, it only takes one to win!
Here are some great resources to help get you started in your scholarship search:
• Black Friday Scholarships & Internships
• Let’s Talk Scholarships: Application Tips
• The 7 C’s of Winning Scholarships
• A Balancing Act: School and the Scholarship Search
• Scholarship Scam Red Flags
• Organizing Your Scholarship Search
• Fastweb’s Scholarship Directory
The same goes for your internship applications. It’s important to keep focused on your internship search throughout the year and never give up!
Here are some helpful resources to help in your internship search:
• 10 Ways to Stand Out at Your Internship
• College Bucket List: Complete an Internship
• Interning During the School Year
• Internship Interview Tips
Don’t forget, you can always arrange an informational interview or job shadow to learn about new career prospects (and network), too!
What better to get you in the holiday spirit than baking a pie? Your home will be filled with a delicious aroma and you’ll have a great gift to take to a holiday party or share with any house guests that stop by.
Check out Homemade for the Holidays for more great ideas for homemade holiday gifts.
3. Catch up with old friends (and stay in touch with new ones)
Pretty much everyone you went to high school with will be off school for the holidays. You can use this time to catch up, relive old times and get the gang together to reminisce about the good ol’ days.
Utilize tips to stay connected with old friends, like:
• Keeping in Touch
Stay healthy and combat the holiday bulge by keeping up with a regular exercise regimen. You’ll look – and, more importantly, feel – better.
Here are some resources to keep you motivated, healthy and on the right track:
• Helpful Student Health Tips
• 10 Scientific Reasons You Need a Good Night’s Sleep
• Stress Relief for Students
5. Plan next semester’s schedule
It’s time to get a jump start on planning next semester while you have time and there’s no time like the present!
Additionally, you should start creating a game plan for next semester now, before you get too busy to do so later.
6. Revamp your resume, cover letter and/or essays
Whether it’s a job, internship or college application resume, cover letter or essays, updated documents are always good to keep on hand at all times – after all, you never know when you might need them!
Opportunity knocks the moment you’re least expecting it so it’s always best to be prepared at a moment’s notice.
As a result, take the extra time during your break to work on all your important documents, adding any extra information you have had since you last updated them.
If you need any extra tips or reference materials, here are some helpful resources.
• Diversify Your Resume
• Writing a Resume Fresh Out of College
• 10 Professional Email Tips
• 7 Job Hunt Mistakes New Grads Should Avoid
• Recent College Graduate Resume Sample
• Receptionist Resume
• School Teacher Sample Resume
• Financial Analyst Sample Resume
• Cover Letters to Get You Hired
• Top Ten Cover Letter Tips
• Recent College Graduate Cover Letter Sample
• Ten Cover Letter Don’ts
• Internship Cover Letter Sample
For College Applications:
• College Application Resume Sample
7. Catch up on your reading
What we’re suggesting here is the kind of reading you actually enjoy – not your required reading for school. Seriously – when was the last time you read a book that you didn’t have to? Pick up a book because it looks interesting, cozy up and get lost in it. Enjoy – you’ll be happy you did!
Need a book suggestion? We’d recommend starting at the top and reading through all of the completely amazing, life-altering books on this list. Try this list if you’re looking for books that multi-task as standardized test-prep.
8. Spend quality time with family
You love them and they love you. No matter how much you hate to admit it, you miss them terribly. Why wait until the holidays to catch up with family?
Here are some tips to stay connected and deal when the going gets rough:
• What to Keep in Mind While You’re Keeping in Touch
• What Do I Need to Stay in Touch?
9. See a movie
Some of the best films of the year are released during the holiday season and, since you have a lot of free time on your hands, it’s a great opportunity to take advantage!
Ask a friend, family member or longtime crush to join and, perhaps, splurge on sharing that jumbo popcorn.
If you miss being at school, why not watch one of these 20 Must-See College Movies?
The holidays are a great time to volunteer. There are so many options out there, with something suited to everyone.
Check out the many resources available to find what you’d enjoy most:
• Student Volunteer Opportunities You’ll Love
• Top 10 Places for Students to Give Back
• Volunteer Scholarships
What else do you like to spend time doing over your holiday break?
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