Mastering the Admissions Essay

By Features Editor

We asked college students who toiled over their admissions essays what advice they would give to future applicants.

"Your college essays should reflect exactly who you are. If you have quirks, throw them in. Don’t have your parents or your college counselor write them for you. Some of my friends are now in charge of reviewing the very same types of essays I had to write when applying, and most of the essays look exactly the same and are written about the same old topics like The Great Gatsby, or Catcher in the Rye, or how their mom is their role model. It is difficult, because everyone in high school is used to writing essays in the same structured fashion, but the essay is your one chance to be yourself."

- Chelsea Prince, Syracuse University

"If you haven’t saved a third world country from starvation, don’t despair! Colleges love anything off the beaten track. Chances are, if you played the oboe, took fencing lessons, or built furniture as a hobby, colleges will be equally impressed—as long as you're able to convey how these activities helped you grow as a person."

- Blayer, UCLA



"Don’t be sappy in personal essay statements. Tell your story, but get the point. Every admissions officer hears the I-grew-up-poor-and-fed-the-chickens-every-morning-at-four story."

- Lindsay, University of Oklahoma



"The essay is something you have plenty of time to work on and perfect and showcase something about you that can’t be shown through grades or numbers. My advice: don’t write about something you do; every application has places to write what you love to do and what you do when you’re not studying. Write about your personality, what kind of person you are—you can show this by including an activity, but make it about you rather than the cool obscure sport you play or mountain you climbed last week."

- Lauren, Lehigh University

Shannon Duff, an independent college advisor and founder of Collegiate Compass, has the inside scoop on writing college essays that stand out.