An undoubtedly important part your entire college application packet is the essay. This component is integral to many college's decision-making processes for several reasons. It is your one and maybe only chance to show the admissions team your personality, how you will fit into the campus culture, and what makes you unique. To top it off, there are so many ways to approach your college essay. Do you want to write about a big accomplishment? A struggle? An experience or a failure?
There are definitely some common themes to college essays. Admissions officers are used to that. The idea is that even if you are writing about something that others may be writing about, you need to do it in your own voice and cite specific examples in your life that gives your story substance.
The Components of an Amazing College Essay
Now for the seemingly-hard part – actually writing the essay. If you break the writing process down into steps, it won’t be as overwhelming for you. You’ll then easily be able to work on the different components of it at a time instead of trying to craft the whole essay in one sitting. Along with making your essay personal and distinctly your own, there are several necessary parts to writing an amazing college essay that you will want to include: the opening line, the introduction, the paragraphs in the body of the essay, and the conclusion.
- The opening line. Start your essay with a direct and captivating line. This approach hints at the personality of the writer and makes us want to read more.
- The Introduction. Now that you have the first sentence written, you have the opportunity to continue telling your story. Write a few sentences that elaborate on your opening line and think about how those following lines fit into the big theme of your essay.
- The body. These are the paragraphs that really explain who you are and further solidify what you wrote about in your introduction. Perhaps you’ve rescued animals your whole life and want to earn a degree in Veterinary Science. Maybe the college to which you are applying is the same one your mom attended. Or, maybe you will be the first person in your family to go to college. Whatever you choose to share – make it succinct and keep it personal. Your essay should not simply be a repeat of the information you shared on your application.
- The conclusion. Here, you restate the gist of your essay.
Ten College Essay Tips to Help you Wow Admissions
1. Address the prompt.
If there’s one completely preventable mistake that students make, it’s failing to address the prompt provided by the school.
Here’s an example: A University’s essay prompt is “Tell Us About (Mascot).” This is an awesome essay opportunity! It’s a creative writer’s dream, a chance to explore any number of avenues – fiction, poetry, an exploration of history or science. The possibilities are endless, but remember – there is a prompt. In the end, your essay has to answer a question. This isn’t an opportunity to meander off into philosophical ramblings, or to summarize your academic accomplishments. No matter the route you take, you should address the topic of the essay. In doing so, you’ll show the admissions team that you understand one of the traits they’re combing through students to find – the ability to follow directions!
2. Brainstorm as much as you write.
Don't pick up a pen (or computer, more likely!) until you have really thought about what you want to tell the college about yourself. Having trouble coming up with something? Talk to people about like trusted school advisors, close friends and your family, and ask them what they think is your greatest personality trait.
3. Keep it personal.
Most students talk about themselves in their college essays. That isn’t necessarily the wrong tactic – depending on the prompt, of course. But there’s more to keeping it personal than just telling the reader about you.
- This essay should sound like you. Your voice, your language. Be consistent.
- Be as specific and detailed as possible. Paint a picture. Help the reader to experience your essay with you (while keeping it concise - more on that later).
- Read your essay aloud to yourself, over and over. Read it once in the morning, and once at night. Read it aloud to somebody else. Have someone else read it to you to figure out where they stumble. As you make edits, your work will begin to sound more and more natural, and your voice and personality will emerge.
4. Choose a theme.
Don't try to cover everything about yourself in your college essay. Think about your best personal trait, your interests, values and goals. Focus on one of these qualities and make it the theme of your essay.
Maintaining your focus will help you to avoid the clichés and sweeping generalizations that can make college essays banal. Admissions officers aren’t engaged by grand statements about life or the world, but applicants are all too happy to provide those observations as evidence of maturity. This is a big pitfall, and here’s the ugly truth – if you wax philosophical, you’re likely to put your admissions rep to sleep.
Remember, you’re addressing a reader who reads many, potentially too many, of these essays every year, for a living. This isn’t a person who is likely to be impressed by theories on education or observational generalizations. The theme of your essay should be you.
4. Use imagery and examples.
Not everyone is a professional-quality writer, but adding examples and imagery to your story will help put the reader in your shoes. Instead of saying, "it was a great day," describe what about it was a great - "the day was filled with energy, cheer and crisp fall leaves." Be vivid.
5. Let it flow.
Disregard grammar, vocabulary, and structure when writing your first draft (but only your first draft!). Instead, let your ideas flow naturally. Jot down everything you can think of that helps demonstrate your point. Later, you can go back and edit to make sure your essay is clearly communicated, properly punctuated, and filled with flowing prose.
6. Edit and proofread. Edit and proofread.
Once you have your ideas and thoughts on paper, now is the time to edit, proofread, edit, proofread, edit, and proofread. Get the point? Read your essay more times than you think you need to. Think about the structure of every sentence. Could it be phrased in a better way? Run spell check, grammar check, and have others read it looking for errors.
7. Be clear, concise, and direct.
Stick within the limits outlined on your college application. If there is no specific limit, keep your essay around 500 words. Make sure every word counts, get to your point right away, and leave out information that isn't relevant. This can be tricky, especially when you are trying to be specific and detailed so that your reader can experience your personality but it is essential. Remember, admissions officers have to read stacks of these, and you don't want to frustrate them by submitting an epic essay.
8. Accentuate the positive.
Students often choose to write about painful experiences. That's okay, but remember to accentuate what you gained from that experience.
9. Get feedback.
Have others read your essay. Ask them what they learned about you from the essay. Did you get your point across? If not, rethink your examples and make some edits.
There’s no magical college essay formula. There are, however, some tried and true methods for catching the attention of a University employee who wants to find impressive and interesting material amidst the piles of boring same-ness that come across his or her desk every day. Check your work against these tips, and you’ll be one step closer to admission.
Do you want a professional pair of eyes to go over your college essay? Book an appointment with the RISLA College Planning Center!