Writing an Outstanding College Application Essay

Writing an Outstanding College Application Essay

The college application essay is often the most challenging part of the application for many students. But it doesn’t have to be. I’ve seen thousands of essays, and I can tell you there are a few common elements that can help make your essay stand out.

Understand the Prompt

Don’t Rush Through This Step

One day, I was in my office when a student came in, clearly distressed. He’d written an essay he was proud of, but he’d misunderstood the prompt. It was a good essay, but it didn’t address what the admissions committee wanted to know.

Always take time to understand the prompt before you begin writing. Ask yourself:

  • What is the question really asking?
  • What do the admission officers want to learn about me?
  • How can I use this prompt to highlight my strengths or unique experiences?

Be Authentic

Your Voice Matters

A few years ago, a soft-spoken student walked into my office with an essay that didn’t sound anything like her. She’d used complex words and formal language in an attempt to impress. But the essay didn’t ring true.

Remember, the best essays are those that sound like you. Write in your own voice. Be authentic. Share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Colleges aren’t just looking for the most polished writers; they’re looking for genuine individuals.

Show, Don’t Tell

Paint a Picture with Your Words

I’ll never forget a student’s essay about her experience volunteering at a local animal shelter. Instead of simply stating she was passionate about animal welfare, she described the shelter’s smell, the animals’ sound, the feel of fur under her hands, and the joy she felt when an animal found a home. Her passion was evident because she showed it, she didn’t just tell it.

When writing your essay:

  • Use vivid, descriptive language to paint a picture.
  • Avoid vague statements and cliches.
  • Show the reader your passion, don’t just tell them.

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

Don’t Let Mistakes Distract from Your Story

One of the most memorable essays I’ve read was from a student who wrote about how attention to detail was one of his greatest strengths. Ironically, his essay was full of typos and grammatical errors. It distracted from his message and left a negative impression.

Here are some tips for proofreading:

  • Take a break between writing and proofreading. You’ll be more likely to catch errors with fresh eyes.
  • Read your essay out loud. This can help you catch awkward phrasing or missed words.
  • Ask someone else to read your essay. They might catch errors you’ve missed.

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