College Essay Writing Tips

With college application season upon us seniors are spending time writing (and stressing!) over the college application essay. Though writing the essay can seem like a daunting task, the key is to start early so there is plenty of time not only to let ideas percolate, but also so there is adequate time for review and rewriting. Here are some additional essay writing tips:

  •  The essay is the first “non-academic” item in the application and student has total control over it.
  • The total package of essays count towards developing the whole picture of the student, so use every essay option as an opportunity to demonstrate qualities about yourself that are not evident elsewhere in the application.
  •  Your essay should be a story that can only be told by you – it is unique to your life experience.
  • Take risks but only share those things that will have a favorable impact on admissions. Share positive messages with powerful outcomes.
  • If writing about challenges/tragedies use the 1/3, 2/3 method. Only 1/3 should be about the event, the remaining 2/3 should move the reader quickly into who the student is now and reflect on the growth and development including accomplishments since event.
  • Show rather than tell.
  • Tap into all the senses when writing.
  • Go deep into one topic rather than trying to cram several ideas into one essay.
  • Skip a lengthy intro – get to the heart of the story. You want your first few sentences to grab the reader and make them want to read further.
  • Use more verbs than adjectives and short sentences that are to the point.
  • Details are the key to a good essay. Avoid sweeping generalizations.
  • Use natural, conversational tone – that which you would use talking to an adult friend.
  • Avoid trite sayings, clichés and $5 words.
  • Be precise in use of language (i.e. “unique” means only one of its kind – it is an overused word).
  • Be specific and concrete, not abstract.
  • Use present tense whenever possible. Avoid passive voice (i.e. mistakes were made).
  • Don’t try to be funny if you are not!
  • Clarity is important.
  • If you are reporting fact with no qualitative content around it, it is not bragging.
  • Structure of the essay is dictated by content around it, don’t worry about making it a 5 paragraph essay.
  • Spell check! Grammar check! Proof-read!
  • Write draft and let it set so you can disengage from it emotionally and then come back to it with the eyes of an editor. Edit and re-write more than once! Editing tips:
    • Does the essay sound like you? Read it out loud to find out.
    • What do I want them to know about me after reading the essay? After reading it, is it the same as my intent?
    • Write for yourself, not the college. Your essay is a piece of your life you’ve wanted to capture.
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