Buzz Words For College Essays

Who Are You? The Most Important Question in College Admissions!

At my first college admissions meetings with students, I ask parents to identify nouns, adjectives, phrases, and short stories that will help me know something about their son or daughter. Usually, one parent takes the lead, calling out a rapid-fire list of words: "Brilliant, tough as nails in sports, hard-working, a team player." Then the other parent chimes in with more adjectives: "Caring, respectful, great with children." I like to hear from both parents because moms and dads often have unique perspectives on their kids. To get a little deeper, I might also ask, "What was your son (or daughter) like when he (she) was a little boy (girl)?" Or, "How do you think your daughter's (son's) friends would describe her (him)?"

I take notes on what the parents say, and when they are finished with their verbal offerings, I ask students if they want to add anything. After the meeting, I email the list of the words to the student and parents, so they can keep adding words.

This exercise is the beginning of a process to come up with word messages students want colleges to "get" about them as they fill-out applications, write essays and have interviews. Figuring out how to communicate about what makes you "you" is one of the most important parts of applying to college.

Why do this? Well, last year's Stanford application asked, "What five words best describe you?" As they complete the application School Report and Teacher Evaluation forms, high school counselors and teachers appreciate word lists to help them write about what makes students stand out. Just so you know, research suggests that knowing who you are is a first step in becoming a confident, effective adult.

A Word List Starting Point

Since I always encourage students to develop word lists, many ask me to provide examples of words that other applicant families have come up with. To give you some idea, here is a list of descriptive words and phrases I have collected over the years:

A: Academic, adventurous, an advocate, analytical, animal-lover, animated, articulate, artistic, assertive, astute, athletic, autonomous

B: Balanced, brilliant, business-oriented

C: Can-do attitude, capable, caring, cerebral, good with children, class clown, community service oriented, compassionate, competent, concerned about others, confident, conscientious, considerate, courageous, creative, curious

D: Daring, dependable, detail-oriented, diligent, disciplined, down-to-earth, driven

E: Empathetic, enthusiastic, an entrepreneur, ethical, an explorer

F: Fearless, a finisher, fitness-oriented, flexible, focused, a foodie, friendly, doesn't suffer fools, fun, funny

G: Generous, gentle, genuine, never gives up, goal-oriented, goes beyond what is expected, good natured, good with the elderly, gracious, grounded

H: Happy, hard-working, health-oriented, honest, humble, GREAT sense of humor

I: Imaginative, fiercely independent, inspirational, an intellectual, intelligent, interpersonal, involved

J: Jovial, joyful

K: Kind, has real know-how, knowledge-seeking

L: Good with languages, a leader, a fast learner, logical, loyal

M: Mature, mechanically oriented, methodical, modest, motivated, multi-lingual, musical

N: Natural, nonconformist

O: An "old-soul," optimistic, organized, original, outdoorsy, outgoing, his or her own person

P: Passionate, patient, persistent, poised, polite, popular, positive, has stage presence, a problem solver

Q: Quick, quirky

R: A reader, reliable, a researcher, resilient, resourceful, respected, respectful, responsible, a risk-taker

S: Scholarly, scientific, a self-starter, science-oriented, sensitive to others, sincere, sparkling, spiritual, a sponge for ideas, a sports nut, stands out from the crowd, social, strong-willed, studious, supportive

T: Take-charge person, talented, a natural teacher, a team player, techy, tenacious, deep thinker, thirsty for knowledge, loves to travel, trustworthy

U: Unafraid, unique, unpretentious, upfront

V: Vivacious

W: Willing to step up, worldly, beautiful writer

X: A xenophile (love of foreigners)

Z: Zealous

I encourage you to take a look at the words above and circle any that apply to you. If other words or phrases pop into your mind, write them down! Keep the list in an accessible place so that you can refer back to them summer/fall of your senior year, when you begin working on college application materials.

By the way, if you want to share your own special words with others, put them in the Comments Section below, or send them to my Twitter (@admissposs) or Facebook pages. I'll then post a running list on my website,

Follow Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz on Twitter:

  • Did you devour Suzanne Collins' YA series and go opening night to see Katniss take on the Capitol in the film version? That could help you get an A over at American University, which uses The Hunger Games as a jumping-off point to discuss social and political issues. 

    1. The Hunger Games: Class, Politics and Marketing
  • Why study Italian when you can learn how to communicate in Elvish? A University of Wisconsin grad student and expert on Sindarin (the official name for Elvish) taught this course based on the language created for the Lord Of The Rings.

    2. Elvish
  • If you're secretly convinced that aliens have visited earth, then this Temple University course is for you. Students study the UFO phenomenon in America and the controversy surrounding the subject. You'll have to make your own call on whether those objects in the sky are really alien spaceships or just plain old planes. 

    3. UFOs in American Society
  • This SUNY Buffalo course uses the AMC series as the lens for a wider discussion on drugs and law enforcement in America. Just make sure you're caught up on Netflix before enrolling. 

    4. Breaking Down 'Breaking Bad'
  • Can't get enough of The Walking Dead? You'll love this course from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, which studies how zombies can be symbolic stand-ins for the American people. 

    5. Zombies!: The Living Dead In Literature, Culture, and Film
  • Miley's ever-changing image is now the topic of a college course! Skidmore College's sociology class tackles how the media frames Ms. Cyrus and how she connects to a larger discussion on everything from race to feminism. 

    6. The Sociology of Miley Cyrus
  • Miley isn't the only celebrity with her own college course. Students at the University of South Carolina can study the "Applause" singer's influence through a sociological analysis of Gaga's work. 

    7. Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame
  • Penn State wants to teach you how to make your own ice cream - yes, really! This course will teach you all the steps in production of the delicious summer treat, and even gives you the inside scoop (pun absolutely intended) on running your own ice cream business. 

    8. Cow to Cone
  • If you consider yourself a card-carrying member of the Beyhive, then you'll definitely want a slot in this Rutgers University course, which analyzes Beyonce as a political and feminist figure. 

    9. Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyonce
  • 0 thoughts on “Buzz Words For College Essays”


    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *