Do you know the three types of admissions essays, and the one you need to get into your reach or dream school?
The one you want – we call it the Unicorn Essay because it’s so rare and awesome – might make up for any flaws in your application and get you into the school of your dreams 🤓 🥳!
The Torpedo Essay will doom your app, even to a safe school 😫.
The Neutral Essay – you guessed it – is somewhere in between. Meh.
Never heard of this before?
Don’t worry. I didn’t either until I applied to law school in my twenties. Once I learned about the three essay types – and how write to a Unicorn Essay – I wished someone had told me when I was in high school applying to colleges. I got into a great school, the University of Michigan, which transformed my life. But if I’d known about the HITS method I created for Tiquer, maybe I would have gotten into my ultra-competitive dream schools (what I thought were my dream schools, which is a topic for another day).
I heard from a wise English professor when I was applying to law school that there are three types of admissions essays: essays that help your application, hurt it, or don’t do either. In over a decade of helping students get into top colleges and grad schools, and getting into top-20 law schools myself, I’ve put my own spin and titles on the 3 essay types:
- Neutral Essay (most common) – It doesn’t help or hurt your app. It won’t get you into your dream or reach school or make up for any weaknesses in your app, GPA, test scores, background, etc.
- Torpedo Essay – It torpedoes your app. You were looking good until they saw typos, the wrong college name, grammar errors, or a cliche topic. Admissions nightmare!
- Unicorn Essay – This incredibly rare essay pushes your app into the YES pile and makes up for any weaknesses in your app, GPA, test scores, background, etc.!
The goal of Tiquer’s HITS method is to help you write the Unicorn Essay. Or, to at least write a Neutral Essay and – AT ALL COST – avoid writing a Torpedo Essay. Here’s how it works.
- Hook – What is something unique and unforgettable about you to hook the reader?
- Internal Motivation – What drives you to this school and beyond?
- Test of Motivation – When was your motivation tested and how did you succeed?
- So Why – Why this school, why you, and why now?
HOOK – What is something unique and unforgettable about you to hook the reader?
If the title or first line of this blog post didn’t hook you, you wouldn’t still be reading.
The same is true for admission essays. Or, even if they keep reading, you’ve already lost them. Of these two draft hooks for my law school admissions essay, which hooks you?
- February 14, 2006. It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m in prison. Instead of enjoying a romantic dinner with my girlfriend in Ann Arbor and giving her the red roses now sitting on my dresser, I am two hours away in a snow-covered library writing love poems with convicted felons.
- I am standing near the left foot of Lincoln’s statue as my ninth graders chase each other around the monument, unimpressed by the historical significance of this place yet happy to be far away from the lessons, often-chaotic classrooms, and metal detectors of our Bronx high school.
I’m flattered if you find both intriguing. But – let’s be honest – which one has you dying to keep reading? To know why I was in prison writing love poems with felons on Valentine’s Day? I thought so, and so did the top-20 law schools that admitted even though my test scores were borderline compared to other applicants.
To learn more about the different types of hook and how anyone including you can write one (and why I was in prison), check out our tutorial on social media (links at bottom of our home page).
INTERNAL MOTIVATION – What drives you to this school and beyond
What makes you tick (tiq)?
Admissions essays are like our favorite stories and characters. What draws in readers (including admissions) is a personal connection to your internal motivation. What keeps you up at night or wakes you up in the morning? And, most importantly, what drives you to this school and your future education and career?
Admissions want to see and feel this motivation to connect to you. And they want to see a trait that will contribute to their school and make you successful there and beyond. Because they want you to make them look good (just as you want them to make you look good).
So, after your hook, describe an impactful experience or time when this trait first emerged or became an important part of you. To see some examples, check out our tutorial on social media.
TEST OF MOTIVATION – When was your motivation tested and how did you succeed?
This is also like your favorite stories and characters. We like our heroes because of their internal motivation, but what makes us fall in love is seeing them struggle and succeed in the end.
Just think about your favorite Disney movies: Hercules, Lion King, Coco, Encanto. Or one my childhood favorites: Little Mermaid. What keeps us watching and rooting for our favorite characters is seeing them face obstacles – villains, family, environment, or their fears – that test their internal motivation.
Admissions readers want to see the same thing in you. They want to see how you triumphed to root for you and know that you can similarly triumph at their school and beyond. Even when it gets tough (which it will). If you become a hero in their eyes, they will have no choice but to say YES!
SO WHY – Why this school, why you, and why now?
You may have the perfect academic and personal record, but if you can’t answer these three questions – why this school, why you, and why now – you will not get into your dream school.
Basically, why are you a fit for this school? This is usually the last paragraph of your admissions essay. Though this should be built into the rest of your essay. If your essay starts with an image, theme, or notable phrase, come back to it in your final paragraph to tie everything together (called the Greek rhetorical circle).
- Why you? – If you did a good job of the first three steps, there’s not much more to do. But you still want to show why your personal strengths are well suited to this school.
- Why this school? – This is the most important question. Schools accept a very small
fraction of applicants. So, why are you a fit for this school? What programs or aspects of this school fit with your traits, motivations, and future?
- Why now? – If you are a senior in high school applying to college, you don’t need to answer this question. But if you waited to apply to college or took a break between college and grad school, explain why now is the right time for you to enter this program.
To see some examples, check out our tutorial on social media. We hope this blog post was helpful and wish you all the success in your admissions process! Please post a comment letting us know what you think about this post and the HITS method or if you have any tips for applicants from your own experience. Feel free to contact us to receive a free virtual consultation and/or get your first tiq on your admissions essay for only $15. Trust us – you won’t regret it!