In the midst of worrying about GPAs, test scores, academic rigor, and completing requirements, it might be easy to gloss over another important element of the college application process: the essay. For some the essay is a welcome relief from all the data crunching, for others it is dreaded.
As part of our ongoing college admission essay series, we’re here to provide some tips, tricks, and mindsets that will help making writing that essay easier, and hopefully produce better end results! Here are the do’s and don’ts of writing your college admission essay.
DO: Stick to the prompt
First and foremost, write what they want you to write. Answer the questions they ask. Trying to “cheat” the prompt by quickly writing about what was asked of you, and then going on to write about what you really want to say is not going to help you in the long run. So do yourself a favor and stick to that prompt–it’s what the college wants to know about you. Besides, the prompt gives your piece backbone and direction; it’s a useful structuring tool.
DON’T: Ramble or get off topic
Again, stick to the prompt. It might be easy while telling your story to go off on a tangent and give too much necessary backstory or summary or just irrelevant information. Outlining your essay and coming up with topic points is a great way to reduce the likelihood of getting off topic. Really focus on the core message of your essay.
DO: Pick an interesting and engaging topic
The admissions essay is all about you. Colleges want to get to know you on a more personal level, as they aren’t solely interested in test scores, GPA, or class rank. So use this platform to show them who you are.
On that note, when picking a topic for answering a prompt, keep in mind that the admission officers have read hundreds if not thousands of application essays. This means you’ll want to avoid generic topics like “I worked hard to balance my schedule.” What is something unique about you? What’s something you’re really passionate about or dedicated to? Allow yourself to stand out. Choose something interesting that also demonstrates the desirable qualities you have.
DON’T: Lie or embellish
Honesty is always, always, always the best policy. In an effort to sell yourself to the college, don’t go overboard and lie to make yourself sound even more impressive. I promise you can find something fascinating about yourself to write about, something truthful. Admissions officers have a nose for sniffing out falsehoods anyway, not to mention you could get into trouble by fabricating a fact or story just to get in.
DO: Brag a little bit
Graduating high school is an accomplishment, always filled with additional successes along the way. So be proud! You worked hard, now is the time to showcase your hard-won talents and wins. That isn’t to say you should be cocky or boastful, however. There’s a line. All the same, if you campaigned hard and worked to get policies changed in your time as class president, talk about it! If you practiced extra hours to shave a few seconds off of your personal swimming record, talk about it! If you formed a club, if you were the lead in a school play, if you got a 4.0, if you won the school talent show—this is your time to showcase it.
DON’T: Forget to edit
Often the Achilles’ heel of any essay—whether you’re a superb writer or not—is editing, or more specifically, lack thereof. It’s so easy to sit back after you’ve written your concluding paragraph, click save, and then send it in. That is a big DON’T! Always edit. Now is the time for spelling and grammar checks. Now is the time to re-read and make sure everything flows. Now is the time to give your essay to someone else so they can edit it with fresh eyes. You don’t want the admissions team to think less of your essay for one or two silly, fixable mistakes, after all.
Use these do’s and don’ts, as well as our other essay writing tips, and you’ll be in good shape. The essay is an important factor to the college admission process, and oftentimes the only time the college will get “to know the real you.” It’s not only a number game, but a word game as well.
Too often are college application essays neglected for their role in the admission process, while all of the focus is put on the student’s grades and tests scores. But your application essay can actually play a pivotal role as it gives the admission board a sense of who you are, reveals why you’re motivated and what sets you aside from all the other top scorers and exemplary students.
You should consider your application as a chance to present yourself and the elements that make you truly unique. While most colleges require only one essay, depending on your aspirations you might find yourself applying for a college which requires two or even more essays.
Don’t stress, because here is the list of dos and don’ts of the application essay writing that can make all the difference. Let’s do it.
Focus on Your Strengths
Naturally, you would want to point out your crowning traits, what makes you such a valuable “specimen”. The personal statement is a chance for the reader to get to know your personality, so make sure to share personal stories and anecdotes that portray your strengths. Did you have someone at your school to whom you helped study for their exam? Did you help the needy in your neighborhood? Those are the kind of stories people want to hear in order to be able to see you as a compassionate, empathetic and genuine person.
Never Show Mediocrity
There are too many average people in this world, and you are not one of them. By all means, do your best to state that. This doesn’t mean you should brag and come off as presumptuous in your essay, no; you need to be walking a fine line between stating your worth and showing humility and respect.
Rather than falling into the trap of resorting to clichés and generic stories heard thousands of times, you should focus on writing a detailed and concise story full of rewarding experiences, portraying your values and personality. This will set you apart from others.
Always Show Wisdom
Your story should be compelling, which means it should include your worldviews, highlighted in the details of your experience, showing a depth of character. People have a tendency of falling prey to the allure of good storytelling without actually emphasizing the key moments that shaped their beliefs, thus negating the main point of the entire statement.
Admission officers who will read your application essay might enjoy the anecdote, but the statement will prove itself worthless in the actual admission process. So make sure your story has a contemplative tone, while a good storytelling could serve as icing on the cake.
Start Writing Your Essay Early
Even if you’re one of the “panic creatives” who are used to doing everything at the eleventh hour, you should do your best to start writing the essay early. This will not only give you time to pick out the approach and the stories you’re doing to tell, but more importantly, it will give you time to edit and improve it.
Too many people start writing their application essays days before submission, completely ruining the possibility of improving and polishing the essay, when they’ve had the time to read it carefully once again and sleep on it. The pressure of a restrictive deadline will only allow for errors to be made, key points to be missed and ultimately, the essay will be pegged as a subpar submission, thrown into the “average” column.
Therefore, make sure to give yourself plenty of time, as most topics and questions for university admissions are made public in June or July, so don’t wait until you’re done with your finals to start writing. Also, don’t be afraid to re-read the essay time and time again. Not only will you gain fresh insight and realize what other approaches you could use, but you will be able to check your essay for any grammar or spelling mistakes as well.
Let Everyone See Your Work
No matter how deep and personal your story may be, if the admissions reader can see it, so can your family and closest friends. It’s very important that you let someone who knows you well take a look at your application essay. This way, you’ll get useful feedback and an objective opinion and advice on the tone, style, and vocabulary. And the most important part, whether the unique points you are trying to convey do stand out in your story.
Don’t Forget to Be Yourself
With all of this talk of portraying a certain image, it becomes all too easy to forget what you’re actually all about, and instead, focus on what you would actually want to become someday. This is the wrong approach that will present something very different from your actual personality, and people will see through it.
This could lead to big problems when your interview comes along, so make sure to never forget who you are at this moment, and emphasize what you would like to become by attending that specific college. It will give the readers an incentive to help you achieve your goals, and will also play with their own vanity and pride, by accentuating the values you recognize in their particular school.
Writing your application essay should not be easy, but it should be fun and fulfilling. Hopefully, with these tips and guidelines, you will manage to write your application essay in no time!
Emma Miller is a marketer and a writer from Sydney. Her focus is digital marketing, social media, start-ups and latest trends. She’s a contributor at Bizzmark blog and a mother of two.
All views and opinions of guest authors are theirs alone and are not representative of the views of Petersons.com or its parent company Nelnet.