Ten Tips for Writing Your College Essays
1. Start early! Do not procrastinate. The college application process is long and overwhelming. Many students consider the essays to be one of the trickiest elements. If you have them completed early, you will save yourself a lot of stress before school begins and you have other responsibilities in school or extracurricular activities.
2. Stay organized. Many students apply to multiple colleges. Not all colleges use the same essay prompts, however. Some colleges use the Common Application, and some do not. Some use the Common Application but require additional supplements or short answer questions. Make a list of the colleges you intend on applying to and the essays that they require. Having this information consolidated will make your life far easier, especially if you are applying to many schools.
3. Plan your essay. What is it you are trying to say? The essay is the one opportunity you have to show admissions officers your voice. They’ll see you grades, résumé, letters of recommendation, and, in some instances, your test scores. The essay is the one opportunity for you to speak directly to admissions officers and tell them what makes you unique. Before sitting down to write, brainstorm and try to figure out what it is you are going to say.
4. Watch your tone. Be sure not to come across as conceited or eager to teach admissions officers a broad life lesson. Focus on who you are, what you’ve learned, and what your experiences have been. Strive for humility and maturity over an excessively didactic tone.
5. Answer the question. Whatever essay you are writing, be sure to stay on task and answer the question. Don’t let your writing become tangential and unorganized. Which is to say, have a point. You don’t necessarily have to be as explicit as, “From this experience I learned…” but readers should have a sense for the main purpose of your essay—they should understand something about you!
6. Be sure that your supplements are different from your main essay. Many schools require supplements in addition to the Common Application. If you write about being a wrestler for your Common Application, choose a different subject matter for your supplement. This is another opportunity to tell admissions something else about you, not a time to reiterate the same story or idea.
7. Don’t be an over-sharer. Frank Bruni recently wrote an article in the New York Times called “Naked Confessions of the College Bound” where he talks about college applicants writing too-honest applicants. Or, as Bruni writes, applicants who do “stagy, desperate, disturbing things to stand out.” College admissions officers know what gimmicks are. Don’t be afraid to take risks—but truly consider whether something is a risk worth taking.
8. Be authentic! Write about something meaningful to you, not something you think that admissions officers will want to hear. With tens of thousands of students applying, an authentic voice is key.
9. If you are applying to multiple schools, be sure that your essays that are school-specific are sent to the right institution. Some students write Mad-Lib style essays, leaving blanks for specific colleges—but fail to send the appropriate copies to the right schools. Which is to say: if you write an essay explaining why you desperately want to go to Yale, be sure that you send that essay to Yale and not, say, Princeton.
10. Spellcheck, proofread, share with people you trust. It is so easy to miss mechanical errors or typos (especially for homophones!). Show your essay to someone who can help you proofread and give you general feedback about the essay. You might want to ask them: is what I am saying clear? Does the essay have a clear focus? How is my tone? What areas can I make stronger?
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