1. Make sure you complete a spelling and grammar check on the essay. Since many students have access to these tools via their computer software, it is really hard to accept the lack of this attention to the essay. It really sets the tone of things to come in the rest of the application.
2. Make your story interesting. If it is a creative piece, then don’t take the obvious angle but one that grabs the reader by surprise. Once I had a student who wrote her essay about herself from the perspective of her dog. Except, she didn’t let you know as the reader that it was her dog until the very end! Very creative, funny and accomplished her essay assignment very well.
3. Be descriptive enough but succinct. You don’t need to write an essay that goes on for days. With the volume of essays that most of the readers are looking at in one sitting, taking three pages to make one point is not highly recommended.
4. I always suggest mapping out the parts of the essay: intro paragraph, many body/arguments, concluding paragraph. Jot down your general ideas under these categories and then expand. Look at it again. Maybe you will rearrange the middle section to hang together better and then edit further. Never feel that you will need to complete the essay beginning to end in one sitting and without some planning. The best ones always take a little time to develop.
5. Give yourself enough time to make a wonderful essay and to think about it. A rush job looks just like what it is…..rushed!
6. Look at your previous work from high school to see if there is a written piece of work you have completed that might fit the bill on your college essay. Maybe it was A work but could use some more editing to really make it shine. As long as the work is yours, genuine and a true example of your writing talents, it doesn’t matter when it was started or what it was originally intended for as an assignment. This is really to give the college a sense of your writing abilities and to learn a little more about you via the subject they have chosen as the topic that year.
7. If you are having trouble understanding what the essay is asking, feel free to contact the admissions office to discuss it with them. It never hurts to ask to clarify anything that is of question to you. Better to ask then to assume and get it wrong. We all know what happens when we “assume” …..
8. First re-read your own work. Then have someone read over your essay when it is completed or when you ready to receive some constructive criticism about it. Your parents, a sibling or friend who is very good at writing or even a willing high school teacher that you trust are all good sources of others who can help you. Even if they don’t know the intent of the essay they are probably good readers and can tell you that a point is not clear enough and they are unable to follow your argument. If it is unclear to them, then editing again is probably in order. Better they tell you than the admissions office right?
There are many others but this list covers the big items. Have fun with writing your essay. It is not meant to be a chore so don’t treat it like one!