Using Numbers In College Essays

Aside from grades, standardized test scores, and your high school courses, one of the most important elements of the college application is the essay. While the Common Application and the Universal Application each have a required essay, many colleges include their own school-specific essays, known as writing supplements.

Supplemental essays give admissions officers the chance to get to know students, and they’re also great gauges for demonstrated interest. So how can students master college admission essays?

Tell Admissions Officers Something They Don’t Already Know
Admissions officers want to get to know applicants. There’s only so much that application readers can deduce from your extracurricular activities, transcripts, test scores, recommendation letters, and other application materials. Many times the best way to get a clear picture of a student’s goals, accomplishments, and character is to hear it directly from the student him or herself.

Don’t use the essay to regurgitate the information that’s already available – reveal something that can’t be found anywhere else in the application. For example, if captain of the school’s soccer team is on the activity list, don’t write an essay about the biggest game of the season. The admissions officers already know soccer is an interest, so choose a deeper topic that reveals something meaningful.

One example: A student’s top activity on her activity list was horseback riding. Instead of writing an essay about riding, she instead wrote about her faith and how she reconciled that with what she was learning in her advanced science courses.

Approaching “Quirky” Essay Prompts
It’s a college admissions trend that keeps growing in popularity: The quirky college application essay question. From questions about “YOLO” and spiders, to inquiries about how students would design their own courses, many colleges are asking applicants some strange questions. For many students, these wild and wacky application prompts can be extremely intimidating. Many struggle with the balance between writing creative, witty responses and sounding cheesy and forced. If you’re unsure about how your essay could come across to admissions officers, it’s not too late for our team of expert counselors to review your supplements and give guidance on how to draft and revise your essays.

When tackling these odd application essay prompts, remember the main goal of the admissions essay – to reveal something not obvious about yourself. These essays are about you, not what you think the college wants to hear, so keep your interests in mind!

The same applies to the “short-take” supplement questions, those that seek a one-word or one-sentence response. Dig deep, but remember that your answer doesn’t have to be as strange as the prompt – it just needs to reflect your character and passions.

For example: USC asks, “What’s the greatest invention of all time?” A student who was passionate about photography once answered the daguerreotype – the first photographic process to come into widespread use.

The Common “Why This College?” Essay
One of the most common supplemental essays that students will come across is the infamous “Why This College?” essay. Whether it’s simply “Why XX University?” or a more specific question about how a student plans to contribute to the campus, colleges are looking for detailed and well-researched responses.

It’s not enough to say, “I want to go to XX University because it’s a great school.” Or “XX College is my favorite.” When evaluating these responses, colleges wants to know that a student has done his or her homework on the institution and has really thought about how he or she will fit into the campus community. If supplemental essays are good gauges for demonstrated interest, this particular type of essay is the most important.

When answering this essay question, use specific details. Mention courses and professors of interest. Students should elaborate on campus organizations or programs that fit certain goals, and specific aspects of the campus community that make it a good social and academic fit. Be as detailed as possible, but be sure to relate these details to specific goals and interests. Don’t just rattle off some course names and expect to wow the admissions committee.

The best writing supplements will add great context and personality to a student’s application, and elevate his or her chances of admission. Often it can be the difference between the ‘no’ and the ‘maybe’ pile. Research and preparation is key to writing stand-out supplements, so don’t wait until the last minute!

Copyright IvyWise, LLC ©2014

Writing Numbers

Except for a few basic rules, spelling out numbers vs. using figures (also called numerals) is largely a matter of writers' preference. Again, consistency is the key.

Policies and philosophies vary from medium to medium. America's two most influential style and usage guides have different approaches: The Associated Press Stylebook recommends spelling out the numbers zero through nine and using numerals thereafter—until one million is reached. Here are four examples of how to write numbers above 999,999 in AP style: 1 million; 20 million; 20,040,086; 2.7 trillion.

The Chicago Manual of Style recommends spelling out the numbers zero through one hundred and using figures thereafter—except for whole numbers used in combination with hundred, thousand, hundred thousand, million, billion, and beyond (e.g., two hundred; twenty-eight thousand; three hundred thousand; one million). In Chicago style, as opposed to AP style, we would write four hundred, eight thousand, and twenty million with no numerals—but like AP, Chicago style would require numerals for 401; 8,012; and 20,040,086.

This is a complex topic, with many exceptions, and there is no consistency we can rely on among blogs, books, newspapers, and magazines. This chapter will confine itself to rules that all media seem to agree on.

Rule 1. Spell out all numbers beginning a sentence.

Examples:
Twenty-three hundred sixty-one victims were hospitalized.
Nineteen fifty-six was quite a year.

Note: The Associated Press Stylebook makes an exception for years.

Example:1956 was quite a year.

Rule 2a. Hyphenate all compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine.

Examples:
Forty-three people were injured in the train wreck.
Twenty-seven of them were hospitalized.

Rule 2b. Hyphenate all written-out fractions.

Examples:
We recovered about two-thirds of the stolen cash.
One-half is slightly less than five-eighths.

However, do not hyphenate terms like a third or a half.


Rule 3a. With figures of four or more digits, use commas. Count three spaces to the left to place the first comma. Continue placing commas after every three digits. Important: do not include decimal points when doing the counting.

Examples:
1,054 people
$2,417,592.21

Note: Some choose not to use commas with four-digit numbers, but this practice is not recommended.

Rule 3b. It is not necessary to use a decimal point or a dollar sign when writing out sums of less than a dollar.

Not Advised:He had only $0.60.

Better:
He had only sixty cents.
OR
He had only 60 cents.

Rule 3c. Do not add the word "dollars" to figures preceded by a dollar sign.

Incorrect: I have $1,250 dollars in my checking account.
Correct: I have $1,250 in my checking account.

Rule 4a. For clarity, use noon and midnight rather than 12:00 PM and 12:00 AM.

NOTE

AM and PM are also written A.M. and P.M., a.m. and p.m., and am and pm. Some put a space between the time and AM or PM.

Examples:
8 AM
3:09 P.M.
11:20 p.m.

Others write times using no space before AM or PM.

Example:
8AM
3:09P.M.
11:20p.m.

For the top of the hour, some write 9:00 PM, whereas others drop the :00 and write 9 PM (or 9 p.m., 9pm, etc.).

Rule 4b. Using numerals for the time of day has become widely accepted.

Examples:
The flight leaves at 6:22 a.m.
Please arrive by 12:30 sharp.

However, some writers prefer to spell out the time, particularly when using o'clock.

Examples:
She takes the four thirty-five train.
The baby wakes up at five o'clock in the morning.


Rule 5. Mixed fractions are often expressed in figures unless they begin a sentence.

Examples:
We expect a 5 1/2 percent wage increase.
Five and one-half percent was the expected wage increase.

Rule 6. The simplest way to express large numbers is usually best.

Example:twenty-three hundred (simpler than two thousand three hundred)

Large round numbers are often spelled out, but be consistent within a sentence.

Consistent:You can earn from one million to five million dollars.
Inconsistent:You can earn from one million dollars to 5 million dollars.
Inconsistent:You can earn from $1 million to five million dollars.

Rule 7. Write decimals using figures. As a courtesy to readers, many writers put a zero in front of the decimal point.

Examples:
The plant grew 0.79 inches last year.
The plant grew only 0.07 inches this year.

Rule 8a. When writing out a number of three or more digits, the word and is not necessary. However, use the word and to express any decimal points that may accompany these numbers.

Examples:
one thousand one hundred fifty-four dollars
one thousand one hundred fifty-four dollars and sixty-one cents

Simpler:eleven hundred fifty-four dollars and sixty-one cents

Rule 8b. When writing out numbers above 999, do not use commas.

Incorrect: one thousand, one hundred fifty-four dollars, and sixty-one cents
Correct: one thousand one hundred fifty-four dollars and sixty-one cents

Rule 9. The following examples are typical when using figures to express dates.

Examples:
the 30th of June, 1934
June 30, 1934
(no -th necessary)

Rule 10. When spelling out decades, do not capitalize them.

Example:During the eighties and nineties, the U.S. economy grew.


Rule 11. When expressing decades using figures, it is simpler to put an apostrophe before the incomplete numeral and no apostrophe between the number and the s.

Example:During the '80s and '90s, the U.S. economy grew.

Some writers place an apostrophe after the number:

Example:During the 80's and 90's, the U.S. economy grew.

Awkward:During the '80's and '90's, the U.S. economy grew.

Rule 12. You may also express decades in complete numerals. Again, it is cleaner to avoid an apostrophe between the year and the s.

Example:During the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. economy grew.

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