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How to Write a Great College Application Essay

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10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay


Whitney Akins


    These 10 Tips for Writing a Great College Admission Essay will  give you an advantage over the  competition, and help relieve the stress of procrastination. 

    There is one thing to remember before you start writing that essay: it’s your chance to shine and make a first impression. While that fact creates some pressure, it also gives you an opportunity to explore the format in a unique way. The tips below not only will help you land that spot at your dream school but also give you useful tools for your future college classes.


    1.  Start Early 10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay

    The challenge can seem daunting , and that’s exactly why you have to face it as soon as possible. An admission essay doesn’t have to take too long. You may wrap it up in a few hours, but you may also spend days staring at a blank page. Create a creative and quiet workspace and set aside large blocks of time to complete the task.
    As the application deadline approaches, you do not want to risk the added pressure of waiting until the last minute. Of course, as a last resort option,  you can call on an essay service , but you should still give yourself enough space to complete the paper before asking for help.

    2. Start with Brainstorming 10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay

    Brainstorming is a process that forces you to give all ideas a chance. Take a piece of paper and write down every single idea that comes to your mind. Research online different topics and ideas that interest you and expose you to new ideas.
    Once you have created a lengthy list of ideas , funnel through and map out how the essay would look with the best ones among them. One unique idea is to combine a couple of varied ideas on your list into one major discussion topic, either comparing or contrasting the two. Once you pick your best approach, the hardest part is over and it will be easy to write a creative, unique essay.

    3. Don’t Mention Your Grades 10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay

    You want to stand out among the rest of the applicants, as well as provide new information that the admission officers do not already know about you. They will know what GPA you have before they start reading the essay as it’s one of the details they get with the application. Mentioning the GPA in your essay will sound like bragging and be uninteresting.

    The essay  is your opportunity to share a personal experience that the numbers and lists on the application don’t convey. Share a story about your life, a struggle that you have overcome, special skills and how you have used them to contribute to your education. Your personality is more valuable than your GPA, etc.

    4. Answer the College Application Essay Question 10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay

    If you’re using the Common App to apply for college, you’ll need to answer a specific prompt in the essay. The topics are broad enough to fit any experience of yours. For example: “Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?”

    Although the questions are quite flexible, you need to answer the chosen prompt very precisely. Don’t go off topic! Again, answering this question with a twist that shows your personal story or life experience will give your essay more color and stand out among the others.

    5. Share a Personal Experience 10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay

    There is only one recipe for admission essay writing that never fails: share a compelling personal experience that shows how you’re ready to build your future in this school. You can always lean into how you have always been of fan of the school sports team, or it’s been a family tradition to attend this school. Most schools love nostalgia and personal connections to their university.

    Or you can focus on what your field of study will be. If, for example, you want to choose literature for your major, you can talk about a vivid memory from your childhood: your grandfather telling your favorite story, and the way that connection affected your life choices and led you to this college.

    6. Don’t Try Too Hard 10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay

    You want to come across as a smart person who knows how to write. That doesn’t mean you should take the dictionary and start looking for big words to use. This essay shouldn’t sound like it was written by Shakespeare. It should present you as a down-to-earth person who can convey a clear message.
    Use strong, clear sentences with simple words. Think about  your audience and rather than providing unnecessary wording for the sake of seeming smart, impact your readers more with your imagery and storytelling.

    7. Grab the Reader’s Attention with the First Sentence 10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay

    If you run into a blog post with an interesting headline and then read a boring first sentence, what do you do? You search for a better way to spend your time. That first sentence is just as important in admission essays. Just as in newspaper editing, the first sentence should provide a quick summary of what your essay will be about, and any important details to grab attention.

    Some ideas will be starting with an anecdote, a quote, or a memory. Whatever you do, make sure the first sentence triggers the reader’s curiosity to find out what your essay is all about.

    8. Don’t Send the Same Essay with Multiple Applications 10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay

    The admission essay should show how you’re the right fit for that particular school. Every college has a culture that they are very proud of.  With this paper, you show how you were meant to be part of that environment. You can always stick to a similar topic with each essay but tailor it to the school.

    A way to do this is to do your research. Learn about the school, their student climate, sports teams, values, awards and recognitions. You can always start with their social media accounts, Facebook , Twitter , etc. With that information, the paper could be relevant to the school’s mission and values. So yes, you’ll have to write a different admission essay for every school you apply to.

    9. Be Yourself 10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay

    There’s no need to pretend to be someone you’re not. You can be passionate in your writing only when you relate it to your personal values and experience. The passion will shine through, and you can rest assured that the admission officers will know when it’s genuine.

    Be proud of what is unique about you, and feel comfortable telling your story to the admission officers.

    10. Don’t Forget to Edit! 10 Tips For Writing A Great College Admission Essay

    Editing and proofreading is the most important and final step that could be damaging if forgotten.  Check the word count and make sure it fits into the requirements. Then, make sure every sentence makes sense, and every thought is fully developed. Lastly, of course, check spelling.

    If you need help with the editing, ask a friend or hire a professional editing service.

    These 10 Tips for Writing a Great College Admission Essay should be simple and helpful that you can take with you in your college and professional life. And remember the first and likely the most important tip. Start early. Start today! It’s not smart to waste your time. Follow the tips above and you’ll boost your chances to write an impressive admission essay on time!

    Julie Petersen is an English tutor and the founder of educational blog .  In her articles, she shares educational and career tips for students.

    10 Tips for Writing a Great College Admission Essay

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    10 College Application Essay Dos and Don’ts

    The essay is often the college application component where students experience the most stress, and the element where they’re more likely to make mistakes. College admissions essays are not rocket science, but there are a number of steps that students can take to put together the most accurate and compelling essays that will help their chances of gaining admission to their top-choice colleges.

    According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, application essays are the most important “soft” factors, or non-quantitative elements, that colleges consider when making admission decisions, right behind “hard” factors, or quantitative components, like grades, curriculum, and test scores. Essays are often more important than recommendations, extracurricular activities, and other qualitative application elements. While it’s important to put considerable effort into all college application components, essays are often the finishing touch and should be treated with great care and consideration.

    Here are some college application essay dos and don’ts for students to keep in mind as they complete their applications this fall.

    DON’T use the essay to repeat your resume.
    This can’t be stressed enough. The essay is your opportunity to reveal something about yourself that can’t be found anywhere else in your application – use it! Many students use the essay to expound upon activities or interests that are already heavily demonstrated in their application through courses, the activity list, and more. Instead of reinforcing a top activity or interest, instead, write about something that reveals another dimension of your life or personality. If your top activity is swimming, don’t write about the big championship meet. Find something else that reveals something new and that shows you put a lot of thought into your essay. If your study of AP biology conflicts with your religious views, write about that and how you reconciled the two. Dig deep to find a topic that’s meaningful.

    DO show a slice of your life.
    When developing a topic that reveals something new, find a way to frame the story or idea that shows a slice of your life or the event. Be descriptive and give details that appeal to the senses – taste, touch, smell, etc. When writing about a meaningful experience or event, you don’t have to give a long timeline of events. Instead, give the reader the piece of the puzzle that conveys your message.

    DON’T copy and paste.
    With upwards of 25 or more essays to write for a balanced college list of 10-12 schools, it’s tempting for students to repurpose essays across applications if the prompts are similar. While students can use the same main essay on the Common App for multiple schools, we always recommend that students tailor their supplemental essays to the individual colleges. Telling Harvard why you want to attend Columbia is a quick way to end up in the “no” pile. Take the time to write original responses to all the prompts. It’s a lot of work, but it will pay off in the end.

    DO show your knowledge of the college.
    When tailoring responses to individual college prompts, it’s important to use specific details you’ve learned through visiting and research. Not only does this show colleges that you’ve have done your homework, but it also demonstrates your interest in the college – and colleges want to admit students who are likely to enroll. Show your knowledge of the college by mentioning specific courses, professors, places of interest, and more. Show how you fit into the campus culture and how you will impact the community through specific examples.

    DON’T say what you think the admissions office wants to hear.
    So many students think that they “know” what colleges want from an applicant, and this can have a big influence over their essays. Students will abuse the thesaurus and write about strange topics in an effort to impress and stand out. Instead of writing what you think the admissions office wants to read, write about what you want them to know. Again, the essay is a great space to reveal something new about you, so stand out by being yourself and showing another side of you as a person or student.

    DO use your voice.
    Using lofty language and complex sentence structure can make you sound sophisticated, but is that really how you speak? Don’t let your voice get lost in the pursuit to impress readers. Instead, write like you speak – keeping in mind that proper grammar and spelling is still important.

    DON’T rely on spellcheck.
    Spellcheck won’t catch every spelling or grammatical error! Take the time to read over all your essays carefully and keep an eye out for things like “out” when you meant to say “our” and other common typos. Have a parent or counselor read over the essay, too, to catch any errors you might have missed. Spelling and grammar errors can take away from an otherwise stellar essay – so be mindful.

    DO double check that you’ve addressed the prompt.
    This is one of the most common mistakes that students make . In the pursuit to write the perfect essay, many forget to connect it to the original prompt. While the Common Application prompts for the main essay are general enough to allow students to write about whatever they choose, it still needs to be clear how that essay addresses the prompt. The same applies to school-specific essays. Check and double check that a clear connection is made between the topic or lesson of your essay, and the question the prompt is asking.

    DON’T wait until the last minute.
    If you’re applying to 10 colleges and wait until two weeks before applications are due, you’re going to have a lot of writing to complete in a very short amount of time. Waiting until the last minute leads to stress and rushed essays that don’t accurately convey students’ messages. Give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, draft, revise, and get feedback on your essays.

    DO seek feedback from your counselor.
    Your college counselors are there to help, but they can’t if you don’t ask or wait until the last minute to seek guidance and feedback. Make a plan to meet with your college counselor and go over your college list and essays, and ask for feedback on your writing. Your college counselor can provide valuable insight into how to improve your college application essays, so be sure to seek feedback on your drafts as soon as possible. School-based counselors have a lot of students to advise and are very busy, so seek guidance early and often.

    Essays are an important component in the college application process. While the essay alone won’t gain you admission to your top-choice college, a poorly written one can send you to the “no” pile pretty quickly. Take your time with your college application essays and seek guidance when you need it!

    If you need additional help with your college application essays, IvyWise offers a number of services designed to help high school seniors with their college applications . Contact us today for more information on our programs for seniors.

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