What makes a great college essay?

Application Process

Our counselors answered:

What makes a great college essay?

Nancy Milne
Owner Milne Collegiate Consulting

Great Essays

If you can make the reader laugh, say "I get that" or "me too", you are on your way to a strong application. In addition, you are sharing something about yourself that is not anywhere else in your application. Finding a cure for cancer, saving the whales singlehandedly, or traveling abroad to build homes for orphans does not automatically make a great essay. It's all about the delivery, the reflection, the conversational tone, showing not telling that will make for a winning essay.

Mollie Reznick
Associate Director The College Connection

What makes a great college essay?

The personal statement is arguably one of the most important components of a student’s college application. It is the student’s chance to lend his application a third dimension, to transcend his grades and test scores, and figuratively speak to the admissions officers. This opportunity should not be taken lightly. 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. Tell a story about your life that an admissions officer would find compelling and/or amusing that is a vehicle for showcasing your strength of character.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

Be original

Do you have any idea how many essays are written about summer camp, admiring your mom or dad, how terrorism is a bad thing, and your resume? BORING. Try to be original with your topic. It is okay if you have something different to say in one of these essay topics, but most of them are depressingly similar. BE CREATIVE. Use your own voice. Write in the first person. Write as if you are speaking with someone, expressing yourself on a given topic. Of course it must be well written, but the admission committee wants to hear what you think, what you feel, what you would do. Eliminate unnecessary words. ? Okay: "Over the years it has been pointed out to me by my parents, friends, and teachers -- and I have even noticed this about myself, as well -- that I am not the neatest person in the world." ? Better: "I'm a slob." Don't Forget to Proofread Typos and spelling or grammatical errors can be interpreted as carelessness or just bad writing. Don't rely on your computer's spell check. It can miss spelling errors like the ones below. ? "After I graduate form high school, I plan to work for a nonprofit organization during the summer." ? "From that day on, Daniel was my best fried." If you are funny, be humorous. If you are intellectual, be philosophical. If you are creative, be original and write an essay that will stand out.

Barry Liebowitz
Principal International College Counselors

Tips for Writing a College Essay

The personal essay can help you improve your chances for admission. It may be as short as 250 words, but the words you choose can mean the difference between a “maybe” and a “yes”. The essay tells the admissions committee how and why you are different from everybody else. While there is no exact formula for the perfect admission essay, here are some tips you should consider when trying to make a lasting impression on someone who reads 50 to 100 essays a day: Write about yourself. The admissions committee isn’t looking to learn about the American Revolution or Bioresearch, they’re looking to learn about you – your achievements, your obstacles, your goals, your values. Whatever topic you choose to center your essay around, make sure you shine through. Focus on one facet of yourself. Pick one project, one activity, or one passion. Don’t try to cover too many topics in your essay, or you’ll end up with a laundry list of details and activities that won’t give the admissions committee what they’re looking for in the essay: an in-depth look at you. The magic is in the details. Tell a good story. Demonstrate how you are compassionate - don’t just tell readers you are. If you had a difficulty, don’t tell the admissions committee your complaints, tell them how you overcame them. Keep it real. Don’t make things up. If you speak from the heart, it will show and your essay will flow more easily. Choosing something you’ve experienced will also give you the vivid and specific details the admissions committee is looking to see in your essay. Share your opinions, but avoid anything controversial. You don’t know who is going to be reading your essay so you want to appeal to the broadest audience possible. That’s means write nothing about your opinions on what’s wrong with governments or religion, please. Don’t repeat information already in your application. If you’ve taken 7 AP courses in one year, don’t list that you’ve done it or that you did it because you “love to learn” unless this relates directly to the focus of your essay. Admissions officers want to learn something about you from your essay that they can’t learn from reading the other sections of your application. Spend time on your essay. Hemingway didn’t write his stories overnight and neither should you write your essay overnight. The admission committee is looking to see what you can do given the time to brainstorm, rewrite and polish. They are looking to see what topic you chose and what you did with it. An essay won’t help you if it’s sloppy and uninformative. Check your grammar and spelling. Yes, this counts. You can write conversationally, but the grammar and spelling still need to be correct. And don’t solely rely on your computer’s spell check. Often times, the wrong word (spelled correctly) can slip by. And nothing says last-minute essay more than the wrong spelling and grammar. Show the essay to someone who can give you objective feedback. Sometimes you can get too close to the essay and be unable to see it clearly. Other people can often tell if there isn’t enough being revealed, or your essay rambles, or if the humor is falling flat, or if you’re not making the impression you’d want to. Remember, this essay is going to someone who doesn’t know you and is going to be making a big decision on what they’ll learn from it. College advisors at International College Counselors are available to review your essays and help you brainstorm topics. To get on the calendar, call 954 414-9986 or email info@internationalcollegecounselors.com.

王文君 June Scortino
President IVY Counselors Network

short and sweet

admissions counselor only has a few min to read your essay and his or her attention is the key here. most college essay are very much the same so if you can make your essay stand out, you must delivery a great college essay that the counselor will remember and share with other counselors. a great college essay must use personal experiences to delivery a big message focused on passion of learning, motivation for excellences, and personal value in contributing to community as a whole.

Kathryn Lento

Authenticity...your voice!

This is an opportunity for you to tell a story that you connect with in your own voice. The reader should learn something important about you through the story that might not come through in your application. As a reader, I want to finish an essay and say this kids is funny or brave or caring or clever or an individualist. I don't want to read it and say, who is this kid?

Dr. Fisher
College Counselor Fisher Educational Consultants

Essays that Work

A great college essay is one that certainly doesn't repeat what is written on the rest of your application. The college desires to know about you not the character in a book. Who are you? What motivates you? What challenges have you encountered and how have you dealt with those situations. I tell students the following: The admissions official has just read 25 essays and is falling asleep. Lo and behold your essay is next as his/her eyes begin to close. Will the first few sentences keep the admissions person up and eager to read your essay. If the answer is no, start again. Also, I ask the following: In each paragraph of the essay, what did admissions learn about you that they did not already know. Piece together all the things one found out about you and what did the college admissions person now know about you that made them back you for admissions.

Rana Slosberg
Owner Slosberg College Solutions LLC

Great essay

Here are some components of a great college essay. It: -- Gets the admissions officer to learn something important about you that does not appear elsewhere on the application. -- Focuses on a narrow topic, that you have firsthand experience with. -- Could only have been written by you. -- Relates the essay topic back to you. -- Includes vivid descriptions, specific details, examples, and anecdotes -- Is interesting, well-written, and follows the essay instructions

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

The Great College Essay: Give Them a Window into You

Few things are as eternal as the search for the great college essay. But given the range of factors that go into the decision making process, it is hard to know if the "successful" essays ones really tipped the balance. That being said, the essay is something you can control so you want to make it good. Quite simply, a great college essay helps illuminate who you are. You need to take the opportunity to present yourself in a way that gives the reader--the potential decision maker--a greater understanding of who you are and what you will bring to the community they are seeking to create. The worst things you can do is write an essay that is generic, one where if your name was replaced by another, the reader could not tell the difference. The people in the admissions office are trying to learn about you and the essay is often the last chance you have to shape their impression and understanding of you. Make it yours.

Corey Fischer
President CollegeClarity

A great English essay does not always make a great college essay

English teachers have the best intentions when helping students with college essays, but they don't always understand that a great English essay does not always make a great college essay. It is fine to break out of the 5 paragraph mold for a college essay, and it needs to tell about the applicant. It needs to have heart and depth. The college essay often frightens students because they think it has to be about some extraordinary event and they may not have something momentous to write about--that is OK. Actually, the best college essays I have read have been about mundane, everyday life. What made them great is that the students showed (did not tell) who they were through their writing.