During 3rd grade English class, many of us began preparing for statewide standardized tests. These exams often included a writing portion. In a standard “how to” essay, the framework was simple: introduction (ends with the thesis or main idea), then several body paragraphs all set off by transition words or sentences, then the conclusion. Ordinal numbers were a customary device used to transition between actions and ideas (e.g. “Second, I decorate the individual layers of the cake…”) or a conjunctive adverb.
It would seem that many applicants are still plagued by this essay writing formula. However, in a sophisticated, refined admissions essay, a solid transition may not feature a conjunctive adverb. It may not overtly refer to the last sentence of the previous paragraph. It may represent more of a ‘beat’ (the smallest unit of measurement in a screenplay) or shift in tonality. It may feature a splash of irony. It may not ‘feel’ like a customary transition sentence at all.
One of the tools we use with our clients is reading writing aloud. While you might not typically discuss ‘what matters most to you and why’ (Stanford GSB’s classic prompt) in everyday conversation, reading your writing aloud will make those stilted transitions and other essay writing hangups obvious. Ultimately, your application essay should not feel so distant from colloquial speech that it makes you squirm when read aloud.
Your admissions essays – whether you’re applying for college or MBA programs – are not subject to the same stringent rules of English classes past. There is no prescription for a great transition sentence, or the perfectly cohesive admissions essay. You’re your own person now, and your own writer, so find that voice and don’t compromise it for a second.
Ivy Eyes Editing