Are you eager to master the art of crafting an outstanding college essay? Your essay serves as a platform to showcase your writing skills while providing a glimpse into your unique personality. To ensure your essay stands out among the multitude of applications, it is crucial to create a precise, coherent, focused, and accurate piece of writing. In this guide, we will explore effective tips on how to write a compelling college essay, consisting of an introduction, essay body, and conclusion.
According to NCES in 2020, an estimated 19.7 million students were projected to attend universities and colleges, emphasizing the need for a stellar college admissions essay. This essay provides you with an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants and increase your chances of being accepted. Let’s delve into the following college essay tips to enhance your understanding of the writing process.
When it comes to a college essay for the Common Application, a recommended length is around 650 words. However, it’s important to remember that unless the subject matter is truly captivating, the admissions committee may lose interest in a lengthy essay. Keep supplemental essay word counts within the limit of approximately 250 words to maintain conciseness and relevance.
Selecting the right topic for your college essay is crucial. Consider writing about a subject that reflects your interests, hobbies, personal challenges, or life experiences. Even seemingly ordinary topics can become captivating narratives when woven into your own unique life story.
There are no strict rules for choosing a topic for a college essay. Some common application essay topics include recounting lessons learned from obstacles faced or describing problems you have successfully solved. For instance, one Common App essay prompt is:
“The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”
To tackle this prompt effectively:
If you’re struggling to decide on a topic, don’t hesitate to seek input from friends and family. However, remember that while their guidance is valuable, the essay should be a genuine reflection of your own thoughts and experiences.
A well-structured college essay typically consists of an introduction, main body, and conclusion, with each section playing a vital role in conveying your message effectively. In general, the essay should be divided into five paragraphs. The introduction introduces the topic, while the conclusion wraps up the main points, leaving a lasting impression. The three paragraphs in between should focus on different aspects related to the topic.
When it comes to formatting, college essays often adhere to the guidelines of MLA, APA, or Chicago style. If you’re unsure about which format to use, consult your college admissions counselor for guidance and clarity.
When it comes to formatting, college essays often adhere to the guidelines of MLA, APA, or Chicago style. If you’re unsure about which format to use, consult your college admissions counselor for guidance and clarity.
The introduction of your college essay should serve as a captivating gateway to your topic. It is an opportunity to pique the reader’s interest by offering a tantalizing glimpse of the details that lie ahead in your essay. However, avoid providing excessive information in the introduction, as the main body of the essay should contain the bulk of the details.
Consider the body of your essay as the main narrative that thoroughly addresses the essay prompt. Ensure your paragraphs are well-organized, and transitions between ideas flow seamlessly. This will enhance the readability and cohesiveness of your essay, allowing the reader to follow your thought process effortlessly.
The conclusion of your college essay is a prime opportunity to reflect on the main points discussed throughout your essay and convey what you have learned from your experiences. Leave the reader with a thought-provoking statement or idea that lingers in their mind even after they finish reading your essay.
Consider concluding your college admissions essay with a quotation that resonates with your topic, such as:
“In every difficulty we are wounded. In every victory we are healed.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
By implementing these tips and pouring your unique personality into your writing, you can create a college essay that captivates the admissions committee and helps you stand out among the multitude of applicants. Good luck with your college essay journey!
What are some do’s and don’ts for the admissions essay?
Don’t bore the reader; that is key to your success. The topic of your essay does not really matter, as long as you avoid the over-used topics- i.e. scoring the winning goal, my summer of community service. Other topics that might be considered “inappropriate” touch on Sex, Religion and Politics. You do not want to inadvertently offend your reader, so you need to also curb your use of “taboo” language. Your essay should be one that only you could write- it needs to reflect who you are. Don’t try to use big SAT words just to impress. Better to impress admission with your personal qualities. Clarity of thought is always preferred.
Do take your time and write several drafts. Do pick a topic that you relate with the most. Do not rush. Do not repeat your resume.
Do take your time on the essay. Although it is not long compared to some papers you have written by now, your essay must possess a depth of self-understanding that your high school research papers probably do not.
Do plan ahead. Diving right into writing the essay may be okay for some, but most students need time to brainstorm, to consider a few topics before committing to one, and to have a sense of the structure before actually beginning the writing process. Be sure to give yourself enough time to write a meaningful essay. One month’s time is not unreasonable.
Do plan on editing and revising. Do it yourself, but feel free to ask a friend who loves writing or English to read your essay and provide feedback. As a matter of fact, it’s best to ask a few different people. Everyone has an opinion, but if you hear the same critique from a number of individuals, then you should probably take their advice into consideration.
Do have fun with it! The essay should be a personal journey of getting to know yourself better. This process should not only be revealing to a college admissions representative, but to you as well. We write to discover, and the college essay should be a lens through which you can see yourself a bit more clearly.
Don’t fill your essay with every single personal accomplishment. You want to highlight yourself without sounding like a braggart.
Don’t brag about your GPA or your standardized test scores. Your application already has space for that. Actually, you should not write about anything that already appears in detail somewhere else in your application. There is no need for redundancy.
Don’t rely on your parents or your best friend to be the only people who provide feedback on your essay. They know you so well that they can “read between the lines,” that is, they can infer what is not written from reading the words on the page. They already know your life story, or much of it at least. A college admissions representative does not have that luxury. Be sure to spell out in clear language what you are trying to say.
Writing the college essay is necessary to gain entrance through the ivy gates. At the moment we are working with high school seniors feverishly writing compositions that highlight their unique attributes and strengths. Crisp Consulting + Coaching would like to offer some clear strategies for crafting personal essays that garnish positive attention from admission committees.
1. Prepare. Transition from thinking about your college essays to writing clearly and effectively with brainstorming. Collecting ideas will assist you in focusing a well-written personal essay.2. Provoke. Personal essays should provide answers about you to the admission committee. These insights should display your strengths, passions and uniqueness.3. Personalize. Remember, an effective personal essay is about you. Writing eloquently about a historical figure detailing myriad obstacles and accomplishments is for naught. The admission committee wants to know about the applicant not an icon or event.
As more and more students apply to college, a strong personal essay will gain the attention of an admission officer. Crafting an essay based on your personal strengths and passions is a strategy that will assist you in the college admission process.
There are many do’s and don’ts regarding the college application essay. A particularly critical “do” is to make sure that your essay stays on point. Applicants will sometimes digress, then fall in love with their digression and not be willing to cut it. Five hundred or less words isn’t much, so be sure that the essay remains focused on fully answering all aspects of the prompt, as they are asked.
One “don’t” that I think is particularly important is to resist the urge to sell yourself. Essays that state, “No one could possibly be better qualified for your program than me,” or some variation of that, risk a backlash from Admissions Directors. “Oh, really? Well, I’ll be the judge of that.” Instead, illustrate why you are so well qualified and let readers come to that conclusion themselves.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling posted an article on their website promoting the use of an online essay writing service. The article, written by Alan Fogg, asserts that any kind of essay, ranging from term papers to college admission essays, could be customized for students. He espouses the positive aspects of using such a service, such as having time to spend with friends, writing a paper that will be appreciated by teachers, or just removing the stress writing an essay.
It seems shocking that the NACAC would allow what, in essence, is simply an advertisement for a morally corrupt service that encourages students to pay someone to write their college admissions and academic essays for them. It contradicts the NACAC’s “Principles of Good Practice” and certainly sends the wrong message to students.
Hiring someone to write a student’s essay for him.her immoral and unfair to others. Hiring another person to write the college application essay does a great disservice to both the student and the college admission officials. The college admission essay serves as a crucial part of the application process – it allows the schools to understand students on a more personal level; personal details can be conveyed by the applicant better than anyone else. Further, personal characteristics are not reflected in a student’s transcripts, test scores or resumes. Having someone else write these essays, no matter how “customized,” reflects nothing about the student – except their willingness to take the easy way out.
Those that support this kind of site may argue that they are providing a service to students, but the truth is they are doing them an incredible disservice. Yes, writing an essay can be difficult and stressful, but students will benefit by learning to work through challenges and to take pride in their work.
1. DO write “small” — that means be specific and detailed;2. DO be concise – avoid flowery, overwrought language;3. DON’T tell me – show me with detailed examples;4. DON’T use vague language5. DON’t use the passive voice6. DO use words wisely – don’t show off by using big fancy words that might be on your SAT vocab list but don’t fit your essay. (ex: plethora, myriad, epigram)
Do tell the truth; don’t lieBe concise; don’t be verboseFocus on the subject you know most – you; Don’t write in the style of e e cummingsUse descriptive words; NO 4-letter words or distasteful wordsBe contrite; don’t be triteCreate imagery; don’t describe things in minutia
There are numerous others in my book, which is free with a consultation.
1) Make sure your story is about YOU!2) Make sure you know what you want the college to know about you before you decide what story to tell. Find a story that illustrates your point.3) Make sure your story has a theme. What happened? Why does it matter?4) Focus your story on one moment.5) Answer the prompt.
1. Feature someone other than yourself.2. Forget to answer the question. Read the prompt before, during and after you write your draft, then ask someone else to tell you whether or not you responded to it.3. Use the wrong school name in your essay. This mistake shows that you don’t care enough to proofread your application. Admissions committees might forgive a typo, but they don’t like to hear that you wish you were going to school somewhere else.4. Copy most (or all) of someone else’s essay. There aren’t too many things you can do to ensure rejection, but plagiarism, also known as cheating, is one of them. Just assume you will get caught.5. Rely on the thesaurus. If you use a thesaurus to find words rather than trust the words you know and use every day, you will not sound like yourself. What’s more, you might use a few big words incorrectly, which will never impress an admissions officer. Colleges are not looking for the next Ernest Hemingway or Toni Morrison. You will sound smart when you use your own words and your own voice to tell a genuine story that shows who you are.6. Get too much help.There is a fine line between asking someone you trust to review your essay and getting too much help. When your mom, dad, teacher or tutor starts giving you words to use or edits too much, your voice disappears.
Do’s:Answer the prompt.While you wan’t to show your individuality, you don’t want to write a beautiful essay that fails to answer the prompt.Be specific.Make sure your essay is reflective of who you are and separates you from the pack.Proofread.Make sure you review your essay a couple of times to check for errors.
Dont’sAvoid politics and religion.You don’t want to alienate your reader.Allow others to put their “imprint” on the essay.While it is helpful to get feedback, make sure the essay maintains your voice.
Do:1. Start early. The more time you have, the less stress you’ll have.2. Be honest and yourself. One of the biggest mistakes students make is “writing what they think others ?want to hear.”3. Take a risk. Don’t settle for the essay that everyone else is writing.4. Keep in focus. Use the essay to help the admission officers get to know you as a person.5. Write and rewrite. Don’t try to write a masterpiece on your first try.7. Get a second opinion. Even best-selling novelists ask other people to read their manuscripts be- fore they’re sent to the publisher.
Don’t1. Find an essay online and copy it or have someone else write it for you. College admission officers have read hundreds—even thousands—of essays. They are masters at discovering any form of plagiarism.2. Try to write what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. This is not only lame, but not a good way to allow the committee to know who you really are, which is what they are looking for more than anything else!3. Wait until the last minute to begin writing.4. Skip “optional” essays.5. Forget to proofread your work and have at least two others proofread your work!
Although the college essay is perhaps the most the daunting part of the college application process, it can also prove to be the most rewarding, provided you follow a few simple rules. First, be yourself. Admissions officers don’t want the extraordinary; they simply want to learn something about you that they cannot glean from the collection of grades and scores in your application file. If it’s authentic, an essay about a daily ritual, ordinary hobby, or family tradition can prove just as captivating as a story about cheating death or overcoming insurmountable odds. Second, bring your writing to life. Use anecdotes, sensory language, and strong verbs to show (not tell) your reader how you feel, what you have seen, and/or what you have experienced. Finally, keep it clean. A clean essay is a concise essay, and one that is free of artificial and/or flowery language. At the height of admissions season, officers will be reading up to 100 essays per day. An unnecessarily long essay may cause your reader to tune out, or worse yet, neglect other parts of your application file.
Do write in the active person. Do use your own voice. Do start early. Do brainstorm. Do show your English teacher. Do proofread. Do write about something you know. Do take advantage of the opportunity. Do your own work. Don’t write about romantic relationships. Don’t use profanity. Don’t brag. Don’t let someone else overly influence your writing. Don’t over-analyze. Don’t plagiarize. Don’t do it last minute!
Do tell a story that belongs only to you.Don’t write chronologically.Do make it memorable for the reader.Don’t use language that is not yours.Do make it fun to read.Don’t use slang.Do use active verbs.Don’t repeat what is already listed in the app.Do use short sentences.Don’t state a point of view without back up details.
1. DO write “small” — that means be specific and detailed;2. DO be concise – avoid flowery, overwrought language;3. DON’T tell me that you are smart or compassionate or brave — instead, show me with detailed examples;4. DON’T use vague language5. DON’T use the passive voice6. DO use words wisely – don’t show off by using big fancy words that might be on your SAT vocab list but don’t fit your essay. (ex: plethora, myriad, epigram)
Do….Keep your essay under 2 pagesWrite about one specific topic, experience, storyHave an English Teacher proof read itHook the reader with your openingInclude your name or other specifics such as date of birth or social security at the top of the page
Do not…Write about commonly used topics (ex. winning the sports game, how great your mom is)Write about controversial topics (abortion, drug use)
DO: Write the essay yourself, ask for proof reading, write in a formal style, make sure that the essay tells admissions officers something about yourself, brain storm, begin your essays the summer before your junior and senior year
DON’T: Try to be funny when you are not a paid comedian, allow someone else to write you essay for you, use profanity, write about the college campus without putting yourself in the context of you on campus, wait until the last month to begin your essay, be afraid to toss out an essay that is not working and begin anew, think that no one will read your essay
you should determine the core message for the college essay first and support it with evidences.the common mistakes are self centered essay and lack of personality.
DOsKeep Your Focus Narrow and PersonalYour essay must prove a single point or thesis. The reader must be able to find your main idea and follow it from beginning to end. Try having someone read just your introduction to see what he or she thinks your essay is about.
Essays that try to be too comprehensive end up sounding watered-down. Remember, it’s not about telling the committee what you’ve done — they can pick that up from your list of activities — instead, it’s about showing them who you are.
Prove ItDevelop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, quotations, examples, and reasons. There’s a big difference between simply stating a point of view and letting an idea unfold in the details:? Okay: “I like to be surrounded by people with a variety of backgrounds and interests”? Better: “During that night, I sang the theme song from Casablanca with a baseball coach who thinks he’s Bogie, discussed Marxism with a little old lady, and heard more than I ever wanted to know about some woman’s gall bladder operation.”
Be SpecificAvoid clichéd, generic, and predictable writing by using vivid and specific details.? Okay: “I want to help people. I have gotten so much out of life through the love and guidance of my family, I feel that many individuals have not been as fortunate; therefore, I would like to expand the lives of others.”? Better: “My Mom and Dad stood on plenty of sidelines ’til their shoes filled with water or their fingers turned white or somebody’s golden retriever signed his name on their coats in mud. I think that kind of commitment is what I’d like to bring to working with fourth-graders.”
Don’t Tell Them What You Think They Want to HearMost admission officers read plenty of essays about the charms of their university, the evils of terrorism, and the personal commitment involved in being a doctor. Bring something new to the table, not just what you think they want to hear.
Don’t Write a ResuméDon’t include information that is found elsewhere in the application. Your essay will end up sounding like an autobiography, travelogue, or laundry list. Yawn.? “During my junior year, I played first singles on the tennis team, served on the student council, maintained a B+ average, traveled to France, and worked at a cheese factory.”
Don’t Use 50 Words When Five Will Do
Helpful Hint: Do not send an essay expressing that your deepest desire is to go to Princeton and then send it to Yale. You would be surprised how often this really does happen.
The college essay is a vital component of the application process. It’s your chance to share with an admissions committee who you really are beyond GPA and SAT scores. Many students have trouble with this assignment: determining what they should write about and figuring out how to tell their story in the 500 words they have been given. And rightly they should, it’s no easy task! One piece of advice I would share is don’t expect the college essay to be something you can whip up in a few hours. This essay requires careful planning, days of writing and re-writing, sharing it with trusted adults to get feedback, and making sure the final version of the essay is error-free in terms of grammar. Telling your story through a piece of writing can be a difficult part of the college application process. Yet ultimately it helps colleges get to know the ‘real you’ and that’s a good thing. So don’t wait until the last minute and remember to seek out help!
Make sure the essay is about you. Don’t write about illegal activities or situations which put you in a bad light.
Here are a few tips that should help:
DO1. Make sure that your essay actually addresses the topic you have chosen or been asked to write about. Avoid digressing.2. Include information about yourself, what you have experienced, or the way you see things that will distinguish you from others. (I know this may seem difficult. It may help to brainstorm some possible ideas with others whose opinions you trust.)3. Remember that your essay will be read by an actual person – in many cases, several. Consider how you can appeal to the reader(s) emotions in your essay. This does not mean writing a sad plea of “Oh, please accept me!”, but to grab the reader’s attention through any number of a variety of emotions – humor, irony, excitement, fear, heartbreak, triumph, defeat, adventure. You name it – whatever fits your theme.4. Write analytically, rather than just descriptively. Instead of just stating that an event happened, tell how that event affected you or made you feel.5. Proofread carefully for obvious mistakes in spelling, grammar, sentence structure, paragraphing, and so on – all of the things your English teacher has been nagging you about! Ask someone else to assist you with your editing; we often don’t see our own errors.6. Proofread to make sure that a reference to how much you love a specific school only appears on the essay(s) which will go to THAT school! (See number 6 below.)
DON’T1. Don’t merely regurgitate information that already appears elsewhere on the application. Your essay should reveal in more depth other aspects of your personality, interests, abilities, and experiences. It’s okay to reference something that appears in another part of the application, but only to establish a context for what you want to describe/reveal about that experience.2. Don’t let someone else write your essay. It should speak in your own “voice”.3. Don’t overdo the humor. I mentioned using humor as a possible “do” in the section above, but use humor selectively. Unless you’re very clever with it, the script for a stand-up comedy routine probably won’t make the cut and may not even seem very funny.4. Don’t ramble! Don’t stick in irrelevant information just to pad the essay. When you’re doing your final editing, remove irrelevant information that may have crept in.5. Don’t repeat things you’ve already said (unless you’re doing it very deliberately for a certain effect).6. Don’t accidentally mention that another institution is your absolute favorite, top choice! This happens more often than you would think. (See number 6 above.)
1. Find a story or time in your life that illustrates something you’re passionate about.2. Don’t be afraid to talk about challenges that you’ve overcome–don’t be afraid to talk about sincere things you still struggle with. Ex: if you’re a child of immigrant parents and you struggle with cultural identity–it’s totally fine not to know where you stand. Feel free to talk about it–thoughtfully, of course.3. Write in your own voice–the essay is supposed to help colleges get to know you.4. Be grammatically correct, but don’t be a robot.5. Bounce some ideas off a couple people who know you best. They might be able to point you towards something significant in your life that 10 minutes of thinking overlooked.6. Start early–you’ll want at least 2-3 revisions.
1. Don’t think of it or write it like an English paper. This is about you, not a book.2. Don’t start at the last minute.3. Don’t be cheesy.4. Don’t be afraid to talk about you.5. Don’t think that you are uninteresting or that you don’t have a story to tell. You are and, you do.6. Don’t copy someone else’s admissions essay.
One of the biggest don’ts from an admission counselor perspective is to use the wrong college name in the essay. Lots of students write one essay and send it to several colleges. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you are following the guidelines that particular college has set for you. However, if you forget to change the college name and you send an essay to Harvard that says you would love to be a part of the Yale class of 2015 then you can bet that essay is going in the trash along with your chances of being admitted.
DON’TS: Please DO NOT write on global, macro themes like solving the worlds problems, or the world’s AIDS problem, or the country’s hunger problem, etc etc, ad nauseum. Also DO NOT tell us about how great your Dad or Mom is.
Nearly any topic COULD produce a well-turned essay in the hands of highly skilled highly intelligent, highly experienced writer which most high-school students are NOT.
DO’S: So make it easier on yourself and more enjoyable for the poor professionals in the admissions departments across America who have to read this stuff. Write about theone topic in the WORLD that you can write about better than anyone else–with MORE INSIGHT than anyone else. Write about You.
I think that the biggest trap that students fall into is to write about someone or something that influenced them (not a bad topic by the way), and then spend the entire essay telling the admissions office about their Great-Aunt Fanny. I am sure that Fanny was a lovely women, but the point of the essay is to tell us about you. You are the ultimate subject matter. Whatever you write, make sure that the message that is clearly conveyed is about who you are.
Do provide new information that is not on your application.Do ensure you have a consistent theme.Do proofread.Do understand the mission of the school and how you will fit in.Do write as a story, not a term paper.
Do not embellish your essay or have someone else write it for you.Do not go over the word count – make it concise and smart.Do not whine – be positive.Do not miss answering the topic.Do not write it as a term paper.
DON’T tell the reader what they already know about you. Instead, tell them what they should know about you. Respond to the question at hand and let them know why you matter, what kind of a difference you will make, that you can reflect on your life and who you are as a person and that you know how to use that understanding to make progress towards your goals and dreams.
Before you start writing, DO look at what the question is asking for and prepare yourself to respond appropriately. When you are thinking about your answer, ask yourself repeatedly if you are answering what the question is asking for.
It’s okay to want to talk about an obstacle or challenge you have faced in your life, but DON’T dwell on telling the story of this challenge – talk about what you learned from it, why you are a better person for having gone through it and how you’ve grown it. Nobody is going to learn anything of value from you if you fill your essay with complaints, excuses and self-loathing.
One thing you absolutely should DO is read your essay out loud to yourself. Why do this? To see if your voice and your personality are really on that piece of paper. Are you in that essay or does it just sound like it could be anyone else? When you read it yourself and actually hear your words, you are more inclined to identify areas where your writing doesn’t flow well or where you start to stray from your message.
Make sure that your essay is grammatically. A poorly written paper with grammar errors is a real “killer”. The readers expect the applicant to have a good foundation in writing.I believe it is always advisable to have someone re-read and “proof” your writing for you.
Don’t frequently use personal pronouns such as “I” or “you” in your essays. This tends to make the essay boring. Try to use an active voice and respond in a way to catch the attention of your reader. Use examples, write in a format that is descriptive, is logical, and flows.
Frequently students will write their essays as if it is a history of events in their lives. Pick a couple of incidents, activities, etc. and “tell” how these were meaningful in your life. How did these events help you develop as a student and person. When students merely present a historical list of events, the reader does not get a sense of what type of person he/she is. Don’t tell the reader information that can be read on the transcript or on another part of the application.
Try to allow your personality to shine through your essay. What about you is so interesting and wonderful that the reader would say, “I think I would like to know this person. He/she will add something pretty interesting to our school.”
The first paragraph of your essay should grab the attention of an AO so that they automatically want to read more about what is going on.Your should Write with you own personality and characters. This is your essay not others, be a real person.Look things from a different angle will make you stand out from rest of tons of essays.Be logical and clear.Do not write your essay especially your PS in the last minute so that you have plenty of time to revise and to think.Some humor is fine but don’t go too far with it.Don’t write too much on your achievement, in stead, you should focusing on how to let AO see your accomplishment from your words.
Here are two easily avoidable DON’TS, both of which involve the crafting of your academic “persona,” or the aspects of character that you try to provide for an admissions counselor.
First, AVOID answering questions that portray you as a baby, a child, or otherwise immature. Answers that begin with phrases like “ever since I was three years old,” or “I can remember dressing up as a fireman when I was five,” or “for me, the first day of kindergarten was the scariest day ever.” It is overly sentimental, in the first place, and probably a bit of an application cliché (even though these memories are for you rather dear, remember that counselors probably read similar scenes all day!). You want to portray yourself a promising young adult, about to start making the first steps toward independence and adulthood; this involves creating a persona for yourself wherein you are disciplined, eager for challenges, proven in your abilities, etc. When you create a scenario wherein you are perceived as a child who is “playing” at being in the world (and probably still in diapers), you risk creating the exact opposite impression: immaturity, unpreparedness, and emotional instability.
Second, be careful not to swing in the other direction and become overly grandiose. AVOID vague, overly ambitious and naive descriptions of your goals or your accomplishments. For example, don’t create a persona wherein you are trying to save the world (e.g. “I want to cure cancer and find a solution to our energy crisis”) or wherein your minor extracurriculars are overly-inflated (“my one semester as vice secretary for the Student World Affairs Club changed my life” or “the two hours I volunteered at the soup kitchen really changed lives”). Be specific and be realistic: don’t say “I want to work with children,” if you can say “I hope to increase my volunteer efforts with after school programs and lobby for more funding for Teach for America.” Qualify your accomplishments into realizable chunks: “I am new to the Student World Affairs Club, but I hope to make its newsletters more effective.”
Rather than make these two common application mistakes, instead prefer specificity to vagueness, and a realistic portrayal of your current place in life: as a capable but eager-to-learn young adult getting ready to move into the world. You are neither a grandiose giant nor a silly baby, so don’t portray yourself as one!
When approaching the personal statement, the cardinal rule students should keep in mind is: if any other person on the planet could have written the same essay, trash it and start over again. The essay at its very core should be PERSONAL. It should reveal positive qualities about the applicant (maturity, responsibility, compassion, commitment, etc) through the lens of an engaging narrative. That being said, many admissions officers have been cited saying that topics to steer clear of are dead grandmas, dead dogs, and “how I won the big game”. Again, not only are these hackneyed, but they are experiences that could happen to anyone. Another way to avoid inappropriate topics is to imagine your readership as your grandparents; don’t write anything you wouldn’t want them to read.
Be honest: Do not try to market or package yourself in a particular way in order to impress colleges. While this is not a time to be humble, you also need to be very careful not to come across as egotistical. If you are a genuinely interesting, kind, and complex person, you should be able to write a sincere essay that expresses all of your complexities, and you should trust that the colleges will be impressed. On the other hand, if you try to imply things about yourself that simply aren’t accurate or true, colleges are likely to see through it and regard your application with a cynical eye.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for the admissions essay from college admissions officers:— “Don’t write an essay that any one of a thousand other seniors could write.”— “Write on a topic that is important to you and one with which you have firsthand experience.”— Think of the choice or subject and the first writing as simply sharing some part of yourself with a friend.”— “Be yourself.”— “We aren’t looking for perfection; we are looking for people who are truly interesting – to themselves and to others.”— “Don’t have others edit it and correct it until you cannot hear your own voice anymore.”— “Avoid writing an essay that will embarrass the reader.”
The college essay is one piece of the process that you can control so you want to get it right. The most obvious “do” is to respond to the prompt. Use it to your advantage. Write something that helps them to know you better, but be responsive. Too, be sure that you are giving them a piece of yourself. Make it your story. The worst thing you can do is write an essay–on whatever topic– that is generic, an essay where if your name was replaced by another, the reader could not tell the difference. The essay is an opportunity to share a piece of yourself, to give them a better reason why the school should choose you over the many others who are no less qualified and also seek the spot. Help them understand why you should be a part of their community.
Do talk through ideas and drafts with a someone you trust. Don’t talk about your ideas and drafts with too many people.
Don’t try to guess what the college wants. Read the prompt or question, and respond to it. They want to learn about you.
Don’t try to impress anyone or sell yourself. Very few people can do that well, and it’s easy to come off as arrogant, obnoxious or shallow.
Don’t plagiarize, cheat or lie. College admissions officers can sniff this out in a second. More importantly, is that how you want to live your life?
Don’t tell them about yourself. Reveal who you are through your story. That happens when you talk about how you act, respond, think and feel against the backdrop of your topic.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. The people reading your essays have been through emotional and challenging experiences of their own. If you have a meaningful or memorable story to tell, tell it. Even if it’s unresolved in your mind.
Don’t write about someone or something other than yourself. Your job as a camp counselor, your experience on the swim team, or your favorite book are just backdrops for writing about yourself.
Don’t bore those poor folks reading hundreds or thousands of essays. Have compassion for them.
Grab your reader from the first line! Do the first six to twelve words make the reader want to read this? Maybe it’s a grab-‘em-by-the-collar kind of first line. Maybe it’s a gentle arm around their shoulder. Bring them in to your world through the story you’re telling. Once you have them, keep them.
Remember that this is a story about you, not an academic essay.
Find someone to support you at each stage of the process. Having a mentor or guide who understands the writing process is invaluable. This doesn’t mean that they’re doing the writing for you!
Give yourself lots of time. This is a lot harder than writing about the War of 1812. The best essays I’ve read have come from a school that starts the process in the Spring of junior year.
Keep at it until you love your essay and are proud of it. Read it out loud, or better yet record it and play it back. Does it sound like your voice? Does it show (as opposed to tell) who you are deep down, how you live your life, your values or how you’ve grown? What kind of person is in the story, and do you like that person? Ask others the same questions.
On my college essay I fudged on a little detail that I thought would make me look better. It didn’t change the story at all, and made no difference in me getting in to Williams early admission. But to this day I wish hadn’t done that. I wish I had written an essay I could have been proud of.
Do address the essay prompt.Do brainstorm ideas before writing.Do write your own essay.Do let your unique voice and personality come through in your writing.Do have a teacher, counselor, parent or friend with strong writing skills proofread your essay.Do write as many drafts of your essay as it takes to make it shine brightly.Don’t wait until the last minute to start writing.Don’t be overly influenced by others’ ideas or essays other people have written.Don’t let anyone else write any part of your essay.Don’t exceed the word limit.Don’t settle for “good enough”.
Do tell a great story that communicates some unique qualities you offer a college. Do tell a specific story that grabs the reader’s attention. Don’t let anyone else write the essay for you. Don’t focus on a negative event or a struggle without spending more time on what you learned or gain from it? Don’t write about a person without spending 2/3 of the essay focusing on how that person shaped you–specifically. Each essay should focus on different qualities and events, and should help you become 3-D for the admissions officers.
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!
TO BEGIN WITH…
I) Remember that this is the part of the application you have total control over. (That’s good.)
2) Don’t write your essay at the last minute. This is an important part of the application. Leave yourself enough time to be able to think about it for a while, talk about it with others if you Wal1t, write it, leave it for a few days and come back to it.
3) Take seriously any specific instructions the admissions office includes. If they ask for a one-page essay, don’t send three pages. And don’t fit it onto one page by shrinking it into tiny type on your word processor. People have to be able to read it. You do not want to annoy the admissions office.
4) If you have any questions relating to any application do not be afraid to call the admissions office. They’re used to getting calls like yours.
FOCUSING YOUR THOUGHTS and CHOOSING A TOPIC
1) Read all of the essay questions asked by all of the colleges you are applying to. If you can write one essay which is appropriate for a few colleges, all the better. Two schools may have open-ended topics, one may be more focused, and if you gear your essay toward the more focused topic you may be able to/want to use it for all three schools. Then…
2) Sit around and THINK for a while. What is this college’s question asking? Make sure your essay answers it, but tell your own story. If the question gives you some latitude, mull over various ideas until you hit upon one that “feels” right, or about which you’re more excited about than others.
4) Write about something that is important to YOU (not to your brother, mother, counselor, or any of the other people who are giving you advice.) It will be easier to write and will have a more natural voice.
5) Don’t try and second-guess the admissions office. Not “what do they Want to hear?” or “what would they like?” but “what do I want to tell them?”, “what do I want ‘them to know about me before they make their decision?” “what shall I talk about that will give them a feeling for what make me tick?” Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat for this one.
I) Don’t try and cover too much. All-encompassing essays will either be too long or, if shorter, superficial. Think about the things you’ve read and enjoyed; writing is usually interesting because of its detail, not its generalities.
2) Be personal. It’s your application, your experiences, your thoughts, interests and personality. The admissions committee is trying to get to know you through your own words. Even if the topic is an intellectual one, the school is looking for a personal response.
3) Convey your feelings. If you’re excited about something, convey that. If you feel strongly about something (positive or negative), express that. Dry essays devoid of feeling don’t tend to be very interesting.
4) Don’t try to be something you aren’t. If the humor feels self-conscious, forget it. Don’t force a “creative” essay. Write in a voice which feels natural to you.
5) Be reflective. Write in some depth. Use some detail or specifics,not just general (and superficial, and easy) statements. Flesh out your thoughts. Ask yourself WHY and HOW a lot as you write, not so much WHAT, WHEN or WHERE
6) What you say as well as how you say it are both important. A great idea poorly expressed will not seem so great.
Once you’ve sent your application in, stop worrying about it. If you did your best, that’s all you can ask of yourself!
Do tell a story in an interesting and engaging way. Don’t just relay the facts, but pretend you are sitting in a coffee shop talking to a friend. Don’t repeat what is found elsewhere in your application, unless you’re adding pertinent information to round it out. Do be yourself. Do write in your own style and using your own words. Don’t steal an essay from the internet. Don’t let someone else write it for you. Take the time to make sure your essay is something you’re proud of.
This is your chance to stand out so make sure that your admissions essay truly reflects you. An essay that is truthful, appealing, and motivating can increase your chances of acceptance. What should and shouldn’t you do in writing your admissions essay or personal statement?Do:• Prepare an outline and create a draft.• Answer all the questions being asked.• Make sure your essay has a theme or a thesis.• Provide evidence to support your claims.• Make your introduction unique.• Write clearly and make sure it is easy to read.• Be honest, confident, and be yourself.• Be interesting and positive.• Make sure your essay is organized, coherent, and concise.• Write about yourself and use examples from your own life experiences.• Use a mixture of long and short sentences.• Discuss your future goals.• Mention any hobbies, past jobs, community service, or research experience.• Speak in the first person (I…).• Mention weaknesses without making excuses.• Discuss why you’re interested in the school and/or program.• Show, don’t tell (Use examples to demonstrate your abilities).• Ask for help.• Proofread and revise your statement at least 3 times.• Have others proofread your essay.Don’t:• Have any grammar or spelling errors. (Proofread!)• Be wordy or use jargon (don’t try to impress the readers by using big words).• Swear or use slang.• Digress or be repetitive.• Be boring.• Generalize.• Include cliches.• Use gimmicks.• Be comical (a little humor is okay but remember it can be misconstrued).• Be defensive or arrogant.• Complain.• Preach.• Have your essay focus too much on other individuals.• Discuss politics or religion.• Give excuses for a low GPA.• Make lists of accomplishments, awards, skills, or personal qualities (Show, don’t tell).• Write a term paper or an autobiography.• Summarize your resume.• Include information already cited on the application.• Forget to proofread.
Do tell the truth; don’t lieBe concise; don’t be verboseFocus on the subject you know most – you; don’t write in the style of e e cummingsUse descriptive words; NO 4-letter words or distasteful wordsBe contrite; don’t be triteCreate imagery; don’t describe things in minutia
Do: write your essayDon’t: have someone else write it for you.Do: write about a topic of interest or special appeal to YOU.Don’t: write what you think “they” want to hear.Do: be honest.Don’t: be overly “clever”.In short, make sure your ideas are your own. This is a personal essay. Stay on topic and don’t get sidetracked by too many ideas. Come up with ways or examples to express your topic without sounding negative, angry, “cute”, too eager to please. . .in other words, be who you are without going overboard. Don’t rely on cliches, but don’t use a thesaurus in an effort to sound too sophisticated.And once you write your draft, don’t fall in love with it! Have someone you trust look at your ideas and accept constructive feedback to improve your work. You are putting your best foot forward!
DON’T1. Don’t merely regurgitate information that already appears elsewhere on the application. Your essay should reveal in more depth other aspects of your personality, interests, abilities, and experiences. It’s okay to reference something that appears in another part of the application, but only to establish a context for what you want to describe/reveal about that experience.2. Don’t let someone else write your essay. It should speak in your own “voice”.3. Don’t overdo the humor. I mentioned using humor as a possible “do” in the section above, but use humor selectively. Unless you’re very clever with it, the script for a stand-up comedy routine probably won’t make the cut and may not even seem very funny.4. Don’t ramble! Don’t stick in irrelevant information just to pad the essay. When you’re doing your final editing, remove irrelevant information that may have crept in.5. Don’t repeat things you’ve already said (unless you’re doing it very deliberately for a certain effect).6. Don’t accidentally mention that another institution is your absolute favorite, top choice! This happens more than you would think. (See number 6 above.)
Admission essay should not be written in one sitting and its good to have it reviewed by as many as people since others can see some of your mistakes which is ignored by oneself.
DO make sure that your own personality shines through. Colleges look at the personality of each student as well as their qualifications. This is your chance to show them who you are, not just what you’ve done!
DO proofread! Over and over again.
DO have someone proofread your essays! Don’t be afraid to ask for help on wording and style either, just make sure that your voice is always the one being heard, not your proofreader’s.
DO use the first person. Colleges want to hear about YOU. This is very different from an academic essay.
DON’T use a form essay! Colleges can tell when you weren’t thinking about them specifically as you wrote your essay and were just casting a really wide net. Especially if you put the wrong colleges name on the essay!
DON’T put the wrong school’s name in your essay!
DON’T use too many exclamation points- you want to seem passionate about something, but exclamation points are informal, and too many can seem overly frivolous.
DO write about something you truly care about. The more you enjoy your subject matter the easier it will be to write the essay.
DO use rough drafts. Write one, leave if for a day. Come back the next day with a fresh eye and go over it. You will be able to streamline your line of thought that way so you can fit into word counts.
DON’T try to sound “academic” or give the “what they want to hear.”DO write what only you can write.
DON’T be being. (“I am… I was… I have been…”)DO use active, interesting details.
DON’T just talk about why the school is a good fit for you.DO talk about what you plan to contribute to the school, and why you are the perfect candidate for it!
DON’T tell.DO show.
DON’T send it off without having someone else read it first! I read and review essays for a living and my students tell me the insight is invaluable.
The big on is take your time. Writing a great essay is a long process, don’t try to do it all at once. Beyond that, I’ll start with the Don’ts and move on to the rest of the Do’s:
Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. The information on this site is for informational and research purposes only and is not an assurance of financial aid.
About Us |
Disclosure: “What Determines Top/Best?” |
Do Not Sell My Personal Information (CA and NV residents)
Disclosure: Unigo LLC. receives compensation for the featured schools on our websites (see “Sponsored Schools” or “Sponsored Listings” or “Sponsored Results”). So what does this mean for you? Compensation may impact where the Sponsored Schools appear on our websites, including whether they appear as a match through our education matching services tool, the order in which they appear in a listing, and/or their ranking. Our websites do not provide, nor are they intended to provide, a comprehensive list of all schools (a) in the United States (b) located in a specific geographic area or (c) that offer a particular program of study. By providing information or agreeing to be contacted by a Sponsored School, you are in no way obligated to apply to or enroll with the school.
The sources for school statistics and data is the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
This is an offer for educational opportunities that may lead to employment and not an offer for nor a guarantee of employment. Students should consult with a representative from the school they select to learn more about career opportunities in that field. Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific program curriculum.
Sponsored Meaning Explained
EducationDynamics receives compensation for the
featured schools on our websites (see “Sponsored
Ad” or “Sponsored Listings” or “Sponsored
Results”). So what does this mean for you?
Compensation may impact where the Sponsored
Schools appear on our websites, including whether
they appear as a match through our education
matching services tool, the order in which they
appear in a listing, and/or their ranking. Our
websites do not provide, nor are they intended to
provide, a comprehensive list of all schools (a) in the
United States (b) located in a specific geographic
area or (c) that offer a particular program of study.
By providing information or agreeing to be
contacted by a Sponsored School, you are in no way
obligated to apply to or enroll with the school.
Your trust is our priority. We at EducationDynamics
believe you should make decisions about your
education with confidence. that’s why
EducationDynamicsis also proud to offer free
information on its websites, which has been used by
millions of prospective students to explore their
education goals and interests.