A tip for Skidmore College applicants–get pithy

I've written several articles as part of this series describing how to handle essays that ask why you're applying to the school, or how you believe you will contribute once you get there.  The most important advice I've given is to be specific and personal.  Inject enough detail so nobody else can write the same essay you're writing. 

But Skidmore College throws a little a wrinkle into that question–their supplemental essay questions only give you 700 characters to play with.  

700 characters is about a paragraph of text, maybe 100 words.  So you can go two directions here.  You can give them generic responses that will spend 100 words saying the same things that everyone else says, or you can get pithy.

Pithy means brief, forceful and meaningful in expression.  You have to say a lot in a short space.  That means you have to do away with everything that isn't absolutely necessary, and make your points forcefully and clearly.  

Here's an example (unrelated to college admissions).  Let's say you want to express that you think the best way to eat a steak is to let the natural flavors come through, without adding any steak sauce to it (you'd be right, by the way).  This is not pithy:

"There are many different ways to prepare and serve steak.  But whether you broil, grill or fry it, it's important that you retain good flavoring.  Flavoring, after all, is what makes the steak enjoyable.  Many people like to put sauces on their steak, such as A1.  Other people prefer to use rubs composed of various herbs and spices which they rub into the meat before cooking it.  They believe that additional sauce or seasoning improves the taste and enhances a steak's natural flavors.  In fact, some people actually like the flavor of the sauce more than they like the steak.  I, however, believe that a perfectly cooked…"

OK, seriously, at what point did I lose you?  I'm sure you hung in there as long as you could, but wouldn't it have been better if I had just said…"

"I think people who pour cheap steak sauce on an expensive steak should be prosecuted in the court of law.  How could any sane person do that and still sleep at night?"

Bam.  That's pithy.  My point is made.  And it's got oomph. 

Here's how to do that with the 700-character limit Skidmore prompts.

In brief, why do you feel that Skidmore is a good match for your academic and personal goals?

You've got 700 characters to tell them what your academic and personal goals are, and how Skidmore is a good match.  That's not easy.  Start by pretending that every sentence you're writing is costing you $1,000.  Forget about anything generic that you could say about lots of colleges like, "Skidmore offers a mix of strong academics and extracurricular opportunities," or "Skidmore has a beautiful campus and a fantastic faculty."  Statements like that only tell Skidmore more about Skidmore.  They're already convinced, and you don't have enough space to waste the words.  Or the money.

Instead, zero in on yourself and tell them directly what your academic and personal goals are.  Remember, you can have academic goals even if you don't know what you want to major in.  Do you have a goal to find your academic passion?  To explore your potential as a student?  To find classes you enjoyed as much as you did your favorite course in high school?

And what about your personal goals?  Are you excited to finally move out of your gated community, or have the opportunity to live independently, or make your family proud by being the first one to go to college?

Come right out and say it.  Now here's the second prompt:

Community and citizenship are strongly valued at Skidmore. Please comment on ways you feel you could contribute as a member of the Skidmore community.

As I've written in many of these other guides, contributing as a member of a campus community simply means finding your place within it and participating.  It might be formal, like joining student government or writing for the school paper, or it might be informal, like talking about politics with friends at the coffee shop, playing guitar with fellow musicians, or cooking vegetarian food with fellow meat abstainers. 

You have to think about the person that you are today and the person you see yourself being in college.  Tie those two things together and you have your answer.  It's less effective to talk about personal characteristics like hard work or honesty than it is to talk about how you'll actually use those.  

And most importantly, you're going to have to be brief.  Get right to the point.  It might sound like this.

"Two years ago, I didn't even know what feminism was.  Now, I can't imagine being at a college where I couldn't learn about and discuss those issues with other women."

Or…

"I'm a soccer player who also plays the tuba.  In college, I'm not going to be sitting around just thinking about sports and music–I'll find a way to keep doing both.  But maybe with an instrument that won't take up half of my dorm room."

Or…

"Poker is an inclusive game.  The only thing we shun at our weekly poker nights are the roles we play at school.  Jocks, band geeks, lefty vegans, brainiacs, the weird kid who wears shorts in the middle of winter–if you like cards and you have 20 bucks, take a seat–you're in.  That's why I want to spend some Friday nights in college playing cards in the dorm.  I want to pull up a seat next to people I wouldn't normally be sitting next to."

Brief.  Forceful.  Pithy.  That's what you'll need to do for Skidmore. 

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.