Mark Salzman

Seniors: Finding Your Voice in the Essay


Seniors, as you work on your essays, we strongly recommend you avoid books hawking application essays that “worked.” You won’t find the story that says the most about you in someone else’s work. Colleges want to hear your voice in your writing. You’re much better off investing your time— and money— in some good writing. Here are some recommendations of engaging essays written in the first-person:

• David Sedaris:  Santaland Diaries and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

• Sloane Crosley: I Was Told There’d Be Cake

• Gayle Pemberton: The Hottest Water in Chicago

Essay Lab: A Reading List

One of the most challenging aspects of writing college application essays can be finding and writing in the first-person voice. This is partly because the type of academic writing required of high school students is often heavy on the passive voice and expository -- or third-person – writing. So what you have learned in your English class can sometimes get in the way when it comes to writing the personal statement or essay required in the application process. You will have to move beyond what you have learned to write for class to a more personal kind of essay in which you write about things from your unique perspective in a style closer to your speaking voice. We are not fans of "essays that worked" whether found on the web or bookstore shelves.  It's hard to write an essay about who you are when you have someone else's ideas fixed in your head. But we do believe that reading great first-person essayists -- authors like David Sedaris and Annie Lamott -- can help you find your authentic voice and your story.  And they're terrific reading in any case. Here are our recommendations: