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UPenn Alumni Interview w/ Jan N. | Part 4: Emphasize What you Feel Shows your True Self

Updated: Aug 6

Jan N. is a master's student at the European University at St. Petersburg studying Russian & Eurasian studies. He is also an honors graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in International Relations and Russian & East European Studies. In the Fall of 2019, Jan studied abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, at Saint Petersburg State University where he undertook intensive language coursework in Russian.


This is the first part in a 5-part series featuring Jan's advice and experience.

 


Important things Jan shares:

  • "Instead, I emphasized what I felt was true to myself and worked on that since it was most natural to me."

  • "I would be careful, however, since it becomes very difficult to write your own original work after reading others’ work."


Q: Who did you ask to review your essays, and who would you recommend giving the most honest advice?

A: I was fortunate enough to be able to work with a third-party counselor. I find that parents give bad advice and teachers generally know what they are doing, although it is most important to get a lot of feedback and then draw conclusions from patterns that you see. It is important to do your research, write multiple drafts, and come with specific questions when you don’t know how else to improve your work. Crave criticism of your best work, that’s the only way to get better.



Q: What did you avoid when writing essays?

A: I explicitly avoided writing about quirky topics to seem different. Instead, I emphasized what I felt was true to myself and worked on that since it was most natural to me.



Q: When did you find time to write your college application essays in your schedule?

A: I was insanely busy junior and senior year, I just did it when I had time. Time doesn’t change, but your priorities do––I prioritized school, sports, and college applications, often at the expense of sleep, social time, and other free time. Don’t get me wrong, I still had time to do things, but I just had much less room for error when it came to scheduling and having free time. Everyone’s schedule is different, figure out your priorities and apply them appropriately.



Q: Did you read any books or literature to help your essay sound ‘smart’ for colleges, and if so which ones?

A: I did not, I just read a lot of “successful” college essays. I would be careful, however, since it becomes very difficult to write your own original work after reading others’ work. It did not really benefit or hurt me.



Q: How did you condense your life story or an aspect of your life in a few hundred words and still tell the whole story?

A: The “formula,” in principle, is easy, although it is much more difficult to apply it successfully. Start with a hook (interesting anecdote, moment, concise story), continue with a contextualization (what does this represent? What am I communicating about myself?), proceed with a “highlight reel” (this is how these traits/experiences are reflected in my application/profile), and conclude with a “so what” (why does this make me a good applicant for your school?). You will not be able to include everything about yourself. Begin with a full essay with everything you want to say, and only then begin to cut the word count.



Q: Did the schools you applied to require certain types of essays?

A: Nothing very unique, I did not have to write very original essays.



Thanks for reading!
  • If you were interested in this article, read more about Essay Tips.

  • Connect with Jan N. more here.


Have more questions based on what you’ve read or any you would like us to ask alumni? Submit them here!


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