Writing The Perfect College Application Essay
The college essay is often the most difficult part of preparing your application. To help you get off to a good start, we've put together the following tips and hints. These are comments from our admissions staff who actually read your essays and evaluate them in the admission process. We can't guarantee results, but this advice might help you get started.
Essay Tips from The Readers
- Treat it as an opportunity, not a burden. The essay is one of the few things that you've got complete control over in the application process, especially by the time you're in your senior year. Use it to tell us a part of your story.
- Take the time to go beyond the obvious. Especially if you're recounting an event, take it beyond the chronological storytelling. Include some opinion or reflection.
- Don't try to take on too much. Focus on one event, one activity, or one "most influential person." Tackling too much tends to make your essay too watered down or disjointed.
- Brainstorm the things that matter to you. Don't be afraid to reveal yourself in your writing. We want to know who you are and how you think.
- Write thoughtfully and with authenticity. It'll be clear who believes in what they are saying versus those who are simply saying what they think we want to hear.
- Be comfortable showing your vulnerability. We don't expect you to be perfect. Feel free to tell us about a time you stumbled, and what happened next.
- Essays should have a thesis that is clear to you and to the reader. Your thesis should indicate where you're going and what you're trying to communicate from the outset.
- Don't do a history report. Some background knowledge is okay, but do not re-hash what other authors have already said or written.
- Answer the prompt. We're most interested in the story you're telling, but it's important to follow directions, too.
- Be yourself. If you are funny, write a funny essay; if you are serious, write a serious essay. Don't start reinventing yourself with the essay.
- Ignore the urge for perfection. There's no such thing as the perfect college essay. Just be yourself and write the best way you know how.
- Tell us something different from what we'll read on your list of extracurricular activities or transcript.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread. There's a difference between "tutoring children" and "torturing children" and your spell-checker won't catch that.
- Keep it short.
- Limit the number of people who review your essay. Too much input usually means your voice is lost in the writing style.
- Appearances count. Formatting and presentation cannot replace substance, but they can certainly enhance the value of an already well-written essay.
Unlike every other aspect of the application, you control your essay. Make sure that the glimpse you give the admission committee into your character, background, and writing ability is the very best possible. Here are seven tips to help you focus and make the most of your application essay.
In our experience, the main worry that applicants have is that their essay won’t stand out. This is a legitimate concern as you will likely compete with numerous applicants who have backgrounds similar to yours. Therefore, follow these tips to ensure that your essay shines in the competitive admissions process.
1. Analyze the prompt thoroughly
Take three minutes to think about the prompt. If needed, divide the prompt into phrases and look at each aspect. Why would the admissions officers ask this prompt? What do you think they want to know? How does that information relate to your ability to excel in college? Next, leave the prompt for a while and then return to it. Do you see something new?
With so many other things in your schedule, this process can initially seem like a waste of time. However, it will save you a lot of time in the long run. If you later realize that you misread the prompt, you might need to start the writing process from scratch.
2. Organize your writing
Like the first item, this isn’t something that should take a lot of time. This is another step that can initially seem completely skippable, but organizing your writing can save you considerable stress and frustration. A good writing plan can streamline or even eliminate the need to do any significant rewrites.
Brainstorm your anecdotes. Create a rough outline, including approximately how long each paragraph needs to be in order to complete the essay within the word count limits. Finally, figure out when you’re going to write. A paragraph a day? The whole thing next weekend? Creating a schedule, even if you need to modify it later, gets your brain in motion.
3. Show instead of telling
When selecting anecdotes for your essay, pick vivid ones that you can tell succinctly. If a story would require 450 words of a 600 word essay, then you’re not going to have a lot of space to express self-reflection and analysis of the situation. Remember that the admissions officers are more interested in your perspective of what happened than the events themselves.
In addition, keep in mind that the admissions officers don’t know you personally, and that’s why they’re reading your essay. They want to get to know you, and the essay is your first introduction. Because of this, don’t tell them that you’re passionate about public service. Show them through strong examples. Help the admissions officers envision each example as if they’re experiencing the situation alongside you.
4. Know your vocab
Your admissions essay should reflect command of college-level vocabulary. One of the most common mistakes that we see in essays is using advanced vocabulary almost correctly. Even among synonyms, there are shades of meaning. If you’re using a thesaurus, look online for examples of that word in action. Will it still fit into your sentence?
Avoid overdoing it. Advanced vocabulary should be the spice of the essay to give it flavor, so you’ll use plain language most of the time. Essays that are riddled with advanced vocabulary can seem pompous or even inadvertently comical to the reader.
5. Write succinctly
Can you say what you need to say in fewer words? Can you substitute an advanced vocabulary word for a phrase? Writing concisely expresses to the admissions officers that can organize your thoughts and that you respect their time.
6. Combine like ideas into more sophisticated sentence structures
The vast majority of the sentences in your essay should be compound, complex, or a combination of both (compound-complex sentences). Save simple sentences for instances when you need to create impact.
7. Seek qualified second opinions
You should absolutely ask others to take a look at your essay before you submit it. As we work on things, we become blind to mistakes that will be glaringly apparent to others. However, limit the number of people you ask to two or three. Asking too many people for feedback will only confuse you and result in a lower quality essay as you revise the essay according to each person’s advice. Therefore, look to individuals who have background and expertise in the college admissions process.
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