Essay writers, meet Stacey. She's an admissions reader at Boston University, and she'd like to tell you a little bit about herself and the work she does during.
When writing your college essay, avoid creating a list of your activities and accomplishments. Tell the reader something about yourself that isn’t evident in the rest of your application. 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. For example, your best trait might be determination, creativity, or compassion. Tell a story that makes that trait clear to the reader. Provide evidence by citing specific instances from your life.
Be clear about the theme of your essay from the first paragraph. Grab the reader’s attention with a compelling opening sentence. Avoid clunky phrasing. For example, instead of “it was really very important to me – and my parents too - that…” use “it was imperative that I…” Keep your essay around 500 words, unless otherwise specified in the application.
Many students write about similar topics in their college essay: family; loss; vacations; sports; career goals. Your job is to make your essay unique. One of the best ways to do this is to use imagery and sensory details. For example, instead of, "The culture of Paris made an impact on me." try, "My outlook on life shifted as I sat, lost in a whirlwind of language, mesmerized by the Eiffel Tower, while a warm banana-Nutella crepe melted in my mouth." Be creative. Your essay will surely stand out.
Don’t let nerves get the best of you. The college essay may be your only opportunity to show your personality to the admission office. Avoid writing it like a research paper. Instead, let your personal voice shine through. If you are witty, show the reader your sense of humor (But be cautious. What you think is funny, someone else may not.). If you are more thoughtful, take on a slightly more serious tone.
Even if you are writing about a painful experience, focus on what you learned from it and how it changed you for the better.
Your college essay gives you the chance to talk about your best assets. But remember to remain modest. While your essay should convey your best qualities, you want to avoid bragging too much. If you write about an activity or an experience, focus not on how good you are or what you have accomplished, but instead on what the experience/activity means to you.
Unless otherwise directed in your application, type your essay.
You may have a beautifully crafted essay or a wonderful story to tell, but if you don’t take the time to proofread, your essay may be overlooked and end up in the rejection pile. Spelling errors are unacceptable. Careful proofreading shows the reader you care and you aren’t sloppy. Before you send your essay to colleges, have someone you trust read it and provide feedback. Usually, your English teacher will be happy to take a look.
College admission officers are usually able to detect an essaynot written by the student. The result is usually immediate rejection.
Anecdotes in essays can be pivotal revelations that the student applicant is ready for a higher level of learning in college or life as a.
You’ve taken the tests, requested the recommendations, completed the common app, and now it’s finally time to refocus on what you’ve been putting off: the essay.
While most students spend days, sometimes weeks, perfecting their personal statements, admissions officers only spend about three to five minutes actually reading them, according to Jim Rawlins, director of admissions at the University of Oregon.
High school seniors are faced with the challenge of summarizing the last 17 years into 600 words, all while showcasing their “unique” personality against thousands of other candidates.
“It’s hard to find a balance between sounding professional and smart without using all of those long words,” says Lily Klass, a senior at Milford High School in Milford, Mass. “I’m having trouble reflect myself without sounding arrogant or rude or anything like that.”
The following tips will help applicants make the leap from ‘average’ to ‘accepted’:
1. Open with an anecdote.
Since the admissions officers only spend a brief amount of time reviewing stories, it’s pivotal that you engage them from the very beginning.
“Instead of trying to come up with gimmicky, catchy first lines, start by sharing a moment,” says Janine Robinson, writing coach and founder of Essay Hell. “These mini stories naturally grab the reader … it’s the best way to really involve them in the story.”
Let the moment you choose be revealing of your personality and character. Describe how it shaped who you are today and who you will be tomorrow.
2. Put yourself in the school’s position.
At the end of the day, colleges want to accept someone who is going to graduate, be successful in the world and have the university associated with that success. In your essay, it is vital that you present yourself as someone who loves to learn, can think critically and has a passion for things—anything.
“Colleges always say to show your intellectual vitality and curiosity,” Robinson says. “They want kids who are going to hit the ground running—zoom to class and straight out into the world. They want them hungry and self-aware.
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3. Stop trying so hard.
“One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying too hard to impress,” Robinson says. “Trust that it is those every day, specific subjects that are much more interesting to read about.”
Colleges are tired of reading about that time you had a come-from-behind- win in the state championship game or the time you built houses in Ecuador, according to Robinson. Get creative!
Furthermore, you’re writing doesn’t have to sound like Shakespeare. “These essays should read like smart, interesting 17-year-olds wrote them,” says Lacy Crawford, former independent college application counselor and author of Early Decision. “A sense of perspective and self-awareness is what’s interesting.
4. Ditch the thesaurus. Swap sophistication for self-awareness
There is a designated portion of the application section designated to show off your repertoire of words. Leave it there.
On the personal essay, write how you would speak. Using “SAT words” in your personal statement sounds unnatural and distances the reader from you.
“I think most students are torn between a pathway dividing a diary entry and a press release. It’s supposed to be marketing document of the self,” Crawford says.
RELATED: 3 tips for getting your college application materials in on time
5. Write about what matters to you, not what matters to them
Crawford recommends students begin by answering the question, “if you had 10 minutes to talk to them in person, what would you say?” The admissions teams are looking for authenticity and quality of thinking.
“Theoretically, I think anything could be ‘the perfect topic, as long as you demonstrate how well you think, your logic and ability to hold readers’ attention,” Crawford says.
6. Read the success stories.
“The best advice is to read essays that have worked,” Robinson says. “You’ll be surprised to see that they’re not winning Pulitzers; they are pieces of someone. You want your story to be the one she doesn’t put down.”
Once you find a topic you like, sit down and write for an hour or so. It shouldn’t take longer than that. When you write from your heart, words should come easily.
Rawlins recommends showing the essay to a family member or friend and ask if it sounds like the student. “Take a few days and come back to it. But only do that once,” Rawlins says. “Reading it over and over again will only drive you nuts.”
7. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.
While colleges tend to nod to disadvantaged students, roughing up your background won’t help your cause.
“It’s less about the topic and more about how you frame it and what you have to say about it, Robinson says. “The better essay is has the most interesting thing to say, regardless of a topic that involves a crisis or the mundane.”
The essays serve as a glimpse into how your mind works, how you view the world and provides perspective. If you have never had some earth shattering experience that rocked your world, don’t pretend you did. Your insights will be forced and disingenuous.
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8. Follow the instructions.
While the directions on the applications may sound generic, and even repetitive after applying to a variety of schools, Rawlins points out that every rhyme has a reason.
“They have to know that college put a lot of thought into the instructions we give them—so please follow them!” he says. “We’ve given a lot of thought to the words we use. We want what we ask for.”
9. Use this space to tell them what your application can’t.
Most colleges don’t have the time or bandwidth to research each individual applicant. They only know what you put in front of them. “If they don’t tell us something, we can’t connect the dots,” Rawlins says. “We’re just another person reading their material.”
Like Crawford, he recommends students imagining they are sitting next to him in his office and responding to the question, “What else do I need to know?” And their essays should reflect how they would respond.
At the end of the day, however, Rawlins wants students to know that the personal essay is just another piece of the larger puzzle. “They prescribe way too much importance to the essay,” Rawlins says. “It makes a massive difference—good or bad—to very few out there, so keep it in context.”
Paige Carlotti is a senior at Syracuse University.
This story originally appeared on the USA TODAY College blog, a news source produced for college students by student journalists. The blog closed in September of 2017.
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2P4HlSm
I last taught high school in 2005. I've been tutoring and advising individual students extensively since then, and my biggest regret about my classroom teaching has become achingly clear: I didn't spend enough time helping students improve their writing.
The Trouble With School
Personal writing -- encompassing, generally, anything that derives directly the author's own thoughts, feelings and personal history -- hardly fits into the typical high school curriculum. It is intensely personal and unfathomably vague. Instruction in writing requires constant practice and feedback. A single paragraph can be a universe unto itself, warranting feedback many times its own length.
Many teachers would love to give due time and attention to the craft of writing, as did I. But then come novels and dramas and names and dates, and all of a sudden summer vacation arrives. Before long, graduation does too.
Collectively, application essays constitute a genre unto themselves. They offer freedom. They invite creativity. They demand introspection. They let students express what they think and feel about themselves and the world. Some college essays read like letters to a best friend; others are like corporate memos -- either approach can be okay. Though students may write academic essays expertly, most students face application essays with nothing but instinct as their guide.
Graduates and Applicants
This blog is directed primarily at two groups: Seniors who are eager to learn from the writing process that they have recently completed, and juniors who will soon be applying. With the November 1 early application deadline months away, high school juniors have plenty of time to develop their approach to writing. Seniors now understand how much they -- like every other living writer, from cub reporter to Pulitzer Prize winner -- can improve.
That 650-word essay that today's 11th graders will write next September must begin with reading. It must begin with books, articles and essays. They might be ten, one-hundred, or five-hundred times as long as that essay will be, and they can be on any and all topics that strike students' fancy. Of those, books on writing can play a small, but essential, role.
Reading About Writing
Writing is not like coding a computer program or sequencing the human genome. It does not require expertise or special knowledge. Writers need only a few age-old principles, healthy doses of self-criticism, and as much practice as they can manage. Fortunately, most of those principles are close at hand.
I've listed below five great books, one essential essay, and one compilation, that will hold all writers in good stead. Appropriately, these pieces are clear, original, powerful and often delightful -- just like the writing, they are meant to inspire. With that said, they will not instantly result in eloquence. Even the most earnest readers might absorb only a thimbleful of new ideas. But that's okay. They'll come away with oceans of inspiration.
"Politics and the English Language," George Orwell
Sloppy writers deceive even themselves.
Unscrupulous ones take advantage of everyone else.
Tyrants rise, justice withers, innocents die.
(An exaggeration? Then what of Mein Kampf?)
Orwell doesn't just tell us how to write well. He tells us why we must write well.
Read it first. Read it now.
The Elements of Style, William Strunk & E.B. White
A short, ubiquitous read, full of tips and genuine concern for students and the language. Beloved, but not uncontroversial.
On Writing Well, William Zinsser
Zinsser presents essential rules for good writing, with explanations to quiet skeptical minds.
No one else reveals the logic of style, organization, and the relationship between words as meaning as well as Zinsser does.
Write to Learn, William Zinsser
Zinsser, again. Thinking may not always be writing, but writing is always thinking.
He connects the two.
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott: prolific author, celebrated stylist, award-winner. She shares every one of your anxieties about writing. She also knows the value of moral support. She offers it generously.
A Few Short Sentences on Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg
In Lives of the Cell, biologist Lewis Thomas argued that every cell -- the foundational element of all organisms -- contains within it an entire universe.
Klinkenborg argues much the same for sentences.
Sometimes, like an amoeba, a great sentence can exist on its own. (This was not one of them.)
Sometimes, merely adequate sentences join forces with each other to form monuments of intellect.
Klinkenborg's book is idiosyncratic, brilliant, largely devoid of structure, and full of subtle wisdom.
It is worth reading and re-reading.
One of his most memorable tips: edit by putting each sentence on a line of its own.
The Best American Essays of the 20th Century, edited by Joyce Carol Oates:
If you're going to read examples of great essays -- and you should -- why not go big? Start with these classics.
To the Bookstore
College applicants will write, and submit, their applications electronically. Do not resort to such conveniences here.
Get your books in hard copy. Ideally, try to buy them from an independent bookstore, the type of place run by people who care about writing. A library will do the trick too. (Here are a few reasons why.) Reading an entire, real book offers a vastly richer experience than does reading anything electronically (go ahead and add The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr, to your list).
When you read them, make notes and underline whatever you like. Fold down pages. Absorb whatever makes sense to you and don't worry about whatever does not. Then file them on a bookshelf where you can see them and be reminded of what you've read. Seek their counsel before you apply to college and celebrate when you send off essays of which you're proud. Read them when you get to college, and read them many times thereafter.
The lessons of high school, whether they address any of this or not, last only moments. Fortunately, Orwell, Zinsser, Lamott and all the rest demonstrate that high school doesn't necessarily matter. The process of learning to write never ends.
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How To Write — And Not Write — A College Essay After reading them, I want to call the students up and encourage their grandmothers to.
You already know how to write an academic essay: you start with an introduction, throw in a thesis statement, find about three paragraphs’ worth of evidence, and wrap it all up with a tidy conclusion…
Now forget all that, because a successful college application essay is totally different.
Here's the thing: your college application essay needs to breathe life into your application. It should capture your genuine personality, explaining who you are beyond a series of grades, test scores, and after-school activities. But that’s not nearly as scary as it seems, because you get to choose what to share and how to share it.
Take a minute and think about the college or university admission officers who will be reading your essay. How will your essay convey your background and what makes you unique? If you had the opportunity to stand in front of an admission committee to share a significant story or important information about yourself, what would you say? The college application essay is your chance to share your personality, goals, influences, challenges, triumphs, life experiences, or lessons learned. Not to mention why you're a good fit for the college or university—and why it's a good fit for you. These are the stories behind the list of activities and leadership roles on your application.
One of the most common struggles students encounter is resisting the urge to squeeze everything they’ve seen, done, and heard into their essay. But your application essay isn’t your life story in 650 words. Instead, pick one moment in time and focus on telling the story behind it.
Admission officers realize that writing doesn’t come easily to everyone, but with some time and planning, anyone can write a college application essay that stands out. One way to do that is to work step-by-step, piece-by-piece. The end result should be a carefully designed, insightful essay that makes you proud. Take advantage of being able to share something with an audience who knows nothing about you and is excited to learn what you have to offer. Brag. Write the story no one else can tell.
Ease yourself into the essay-writing process. Take time to understand the question or prompt being asked.
The single most important part of your essay preparation may be simply making sure you truly understand the question or essay prompt. When you are finished writing, you need to make sure that your essay still adheres to the prompt.
College essay questions often suggest one or two main ideas or topics of focus. These can vary from personal to trivial, but all seek to challenge you and spark your creativity and insight.
Get your creative juices flowing by brainstorming all the possible ideas you can think of to address your college essay question.
Believe it or not, the brainstorming stage may be more tedious than writing the actual application essay. The purpose is to flesh out all of your possible ideas so when you begin writing, you know and understand where you are going with the topic.
Map out what you’re going to write by making an outline.
Architects use a blue print. A webpage is comprised of code. Cooks rely on recipes. What do they have in common? They have a plan. The rules for writing a good essay are no different. After you brainstorm, you’ll know what you want to say, but you must decide how you’re going to say it. Create an outline that breaks down the essay into sections.
Related:College Application Essays: A Step-by-Step Example
Once you are satisfied with your essay in outline format, begin writing!
By now you know exactly what you will write about and how you want to tell the story. So hop on a computer and get to it. Try to just let yourself bang out a rough draft without going back to change anything. Then go back and revise, revise, revise. Before you know it, you will have told the story you outlined—and reached the necessary word count—and you will be happy you spent all that time preparing!
The last step is editing and proofreading your finished essay.
You have worked so hard up until this point, and while you might be relieved, remember: your essay is only as good as your editing. A single grammatical error or typo could indicate carelessness—not a trait you want to convey to a college admission officer.
Celebrate finishing what you started.
Writing the college essay takes time and effort, and you should feel accomplished. When you submit your essay, remember to include your name, contact information, and ID number if your college provided one, especially if you send it to a general admission email account. Nothing is worse than trying to match an application essay with no name (or, worse, an email address such as [email protected]) to a file. Make sure to keep copies of what you sent to which schools and when—and follow up on them! Be certain the college or university you are applying to received your essay. You don’t want all that hard work to go to waste!
Looking for more college application essay help? We have tons—tons—here, including lots of real-world examples!
Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »
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Here are three overlooked, yet effective ways to impress with your college essay: 1. Reel the reader in Every application season, the members.