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  • Mike Demilio

The Elephant

You probably never knew an elephant could help you craft your most powerful and effective essays.

In The Righteous Mind, Jon Haidt describes how people make decisions. It is mostly our emotions that drive our choices.

He likens it to a man riding an elephant. The elephant is our emotions, and they go where they want. The rider is our intellect. It rationalizes where we've gone after we get there.

Your essays have to move the elephant. They have to connect with the reader's emotions.

Admissions officers are human beings. It doesn't matter how many intellectual arguments you make, if you don't connect with the emotions of the person reading your essay, it will fail.

The goal of your essays, especially your personal statement, is to persuade the reader to speak up on your behalf.

Keyword: Persuade.

Speak to the elephant, but be careful. Pity is an emotion, but not the right one. Don't play the victim. Anger is an emotion, and so is sadness. But… no.

Try for joy. Inspire them. Make them laugh a little. How? Show them your heart. Love is contagious. Be human. Be vulnerable, or kind.

We all have stories that reveal our humanity. Find yours and tell it with honesty, with candor, with courage.

Check in with trusted readers as you go, and make sure you're connecting with the right emotions. It's hard sometimes to know when a story will resonate, so don't try to do it alone.

Be brave and sincere and you'll make that emotional connection with your reader. You'll move the elephant.


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