Besides “Please put your pencils down,” does any admissions-related instruction strike more angst into the heart of a senior than “Please submit a response to the following question in 500 words or less”? (At least we say please.)
As the application deadline approaches, my inbox has been peppered with panicked questions about word limits. Here are two illustrative snips from messages I recently received: “I have spent hours after hours perfecting the Common Application essay, but I am facing immeasurable adversity.” Oh, dear, “immeasurable adversity” sounds bad. My exasperated pen pal continued, “My essay has around 650 words, and if I cut it down to 500 words, the power of my essay seems to diminish significantly.” Let me be clear: diminished quality is never our goal when we set limits on these questions. The goal of the word count is an economy of prose. (Less is more.)
Another worried writer wrote, “I noticed one of my essays went over the word limit by about 20-25 words. I mean seriously, Mr. Coffin,” he typed in pained (feigned) protest as he struggled to contain his effusive response to the “Why Tufts?” question on our writing supplement. “50-100 words on an essay I could go on for days about…? Is this some kind of sick game?”
Contrary to what some of you might be thinking as you draft your college essays and short responses, admission officers are not in the torture business. I don’t covet Jessica Lange’s role as the sadistic nun on American Horror Story. (Quick sidebar: Love Ryan Murphy but I don’t think the asylum is as scary as last year’s Hollywood haunted house…) The application is not designed with the goal of making you twist and sweat as you thrash your keyboard against your desk. Seriously, I’m not that kind of guy. Ask my mom.
As I opine about essays and word limits, let’s see if I can practice what I preach and keep each topical paragraph under the 250 word limit we use on our writing supplement. Oh, the pressure is on… (That was 37 words…)
The word limits we set (maybe you’re thinking “impose” would be a more descriptive verb) on the various questions are guidelines. They signal the scope of what you should submit, not unlike an assignment for AP English. For example, your teacher assigns a critical paper about The Great Gatsby and she tells the class it should be 3-5 pages in length. In doing so, she shares her expectations for the assignment: a two-page paper is probably not a complete embrace of F. Scott Fitzgerald while a 10-page opus is too much love. In her wisdom, 3-5 pages should suffice to explore the topic in a full and complete way. She’s teaching you how to hone your thoughts into a cohesive, cogent narrative and that’s a valuable skill to learn. Just ask you parents if they’ve ever had to write or read a memo at work: no one likes a windbag. (150 words, still lots of breathing room within the limit…)
Although the Common Application server does have a hard character count when you submit an essay, generally-speaking the “limits” have some wiggle room. For example, when we suggest a response to “Why Tufts?” that’s 50-100 words the relatively low count is not a “sick game.” (If my e-mailer is reading this post, I know you were kidding but I appreciate the opportunity you gave me to make a point!) Instead, the limit is a signal that your response should be a couple of sentences highlighting a key thought or two rather than a lengthy discourse on the (many) virtues of Tufts. For example, here’s an effective 42-word answer (yes, it is eight words below the suggested range) from last year: “Tufts speaks to me. It has everything I'm looking for: internationalism, compassion, strong intellectual challenge, and uninhibited joy. It is the only school on my Twitter feed, the only one that unfailingly makes me smile, the only one that feels like home.” That response is pithy, clear and informative. Less was more. (172)
Rather than over-thinking the word limits, focus on the narrative you are creating. As you answer the writing supplemental and Common Application questions, what does your response tell us about you? My niece is a senior this year (she applied early to Bates) and she asked me to read her personal statement before she submitted it. She wrote a funny, interesting essay about her love of reading—and her passion for Stephen King novels in particular—that made me (unexpectedly) laugh out loud (a literal LOL) in several places as she imagined a blue mist swallowing cranky coupon-wielding customers at the supermarket where she works. When she asked me what I thought, I said it introduces her to Bates as “a witty bookworm with a passion for horror.” She smiled broadly and said, “That’s me!” Bingo. (135)
For EVERY piece of writing you offer as part of your college application, ask yourself this question: “What would the headline or sound bite be after someone reads this?” Can the reader distill an image or a message that would make you say “That’s me!” If so, you’ve done your job. The essay adds a jolt of your personality or aspirations or passions or perspective to our understanding of who you are. If not, keep typing. If you’re up to the word limit, delete or modify accordingly. (87)
As your fingers pound your keyboard and your screen fills with characters, focus on what you want us to know about you. Don’t flip that sentence around and try to tell us what you think we want to know about you. It’s your story: tell it in your own words. When given a choice (like on our third writing supplemental question), choose whichever prompt gives you the best vehicle to let your voice roar and soar. (If images resonate more than words as a way of telling us who you are, we welcome whatever medium clarifies your persona for us. Human narrative takes many forms: sing, draw, film or code your voice if that works for you.) (116)
If you love the musty smell of a used bookstore, tell us why old books make you happy. If you are a liberal poet with an affinity for slams at the local coffee shop and your father is a conservative banker who thinks you should major in “something that will make a lot of money,” describe the intellectual tension that frames the environment in which you were raised. If a double helix of DNA makes you giddy, celebrate your nerdy side. One of my colleagues just wandered into my office to celebrate the ED applicant who said his senior superlative would be “Most Likely to be the Crazy Cat Lady Down the Street.” I’m still chuckling. Sometimes a sense of humor goes a long way. (This one is 125; combine the last two paragraphs and it’ 241, still under 250.)
Think of the various short answers and essays as ingredients. Each adds flavor to the recipe that is your application. (Does this metaphor work?) If the dish needs more zest, find a way to add something new by rolling the dice a bit with one of your answers. In turn (at least at Tufts), the admissions officers will never roll our eyes if you take a leap and go somewhere unexpected. (Tufts is that kind of place.) (77)
Be playful. Be daring. Be creative. Above all, be true to yourself. Authenticity counts. We know what a 17-year sounds like when she writes. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Mom. Don’t over-edit your child’s voice into vanilla pabulum.) Stay within the word limits but don’t get distracted by that instruction. And let’s be real: if we didn’t give you any limits you’d be howling at us about how many pages you should write. (This penultimate paragraph is 73 words, easily within the 50-100 range if I were [the subjunctive tense!] answering “Why Tufts?”)
As you race towards the deadline, write what you want to write. Then save it. Reread it. Imagine a headline. Let the ideas steep like a good cup of tea. Edit it. And then submit it. And if you’re daunted by the command to use “500 words or less,” remember that you probably text more than that in a single day. (61)
And may the word count be ever in your favor. (10)
(This full post has 1,402 words. The sound you hear is the buzzer disqualifying it for violating its headline. I'm a windbag.)
My ambition in life is to become a school teacher
Posted Date: |Updated: 30-Mar-2017 |Category: Essays|Author: Swati Sarnobat|Member Level: Gold|Points: 30|
I am explaining in this essay that I want to be a teacher when I grow up and educate the society. My parents and grandparents have taught me the value and importance of teaching and education in life and so I want to be a teacher.
Different people have different ambitions in life such as doctors, engineers, pilots, soldiers, etc. But I always wanted to be a teacher because I feel really blissful when I teach people around me. From my childhood, I teach whatever I learn in school. By teaching people around us, we can uplift the society. My father is a professor in a science college and my mother who was a teacher in school earlier now runs a nursery in our house. The two large rooms upstairs are occupied for nursery school. My mother feels immensely happy when she teaches such tiny tots who are not aware of anything. She holds their hands and teaches them "A, B, C, D" and also plays with them many games by taking them to our garden along with one more teacher. I see that my mother feels really happy when she is teaching such innocent children and so I also want to become a teacher like her.
My journey to becoming a teacher
I want to become a teacher in a reputed international school to teach the students new methods of learning. English is always my favorite subject and also I love to teach social studies. I have introduced new methods of teaching grammar and vocabulary. I always love reading books and I have read many novels pertaining to children's activities and hence I began liking the language.
To become a teacher, I should first become a graduate in arts and then study education as a major subject. I love teaching in school than in college because the atmosphere in school is really pleasing. Being in a children's company, just gives me pleasure. I love playing with children and teaching them something that I have learnt in kindergarten. When I become a teacher, I will always teach children mannerism and values too so that they can become good citizens of the future. As a teacher, my duty is not only to teach English and Social studies, but also teach the students the way of life. My teacher always guides us and teaches us the value of mannerism in daily life. After becoming a teacher, I will start preparing notes on English and Social studies so that the students can easily learn the subjects. I will explain to them clearly every chapter so that they can learn it easily and also like the subject.
The type of teacher I want to be
My grandparents always told me that teaching in a sacred profession and a teacher can make the world a sacred place. I do not want to be a strict teacher who is always flogging or screaming at students, but a compassionate teacher who nurtures the students with knowledge. When I become a teacher, I will never use a scale to scare away students, but speak so effectively that a student understands the meaning of discipline. My teacher is really lovable and I want to become a teacher like her. In our country great teachers were born such as Gandhiji, Swami Vivekananda, Ramkrishna Paramahansa, etc who taught us the greatest lessons of life. So, I will teach my students the values that will help us to succeed.