Writing College Essays

advice for writing college essaysWriting a College Admissions Essay

So you have the grades and the SAT or ACT scores. You know what schools to apply to. Maybe you even know what your major will be. So, what’s next for you, the prospective college student? The dreaded college essay. Most colleges require essays with their applications, and some admit judging applicants more by the essay than their grades. The college essay, then, is a challenge that can make or break you. However, you needn’t stress over them too much. There are a few simple rules to keep in mind as you tackle them.

Good college essays should show proper use of grammar, spelling, syntax, and logic. This is college you’re applying to, right?  Still, some errors will be overlooked in favor of the point of the exercise: what kind of person you really are.

College essays are meant to reveal the ways you match—or, unfortunately, don’t match—a college. They want you to reveal yourself, to show if you’ve been paying attention to them. So honesty, more than anything, is a requirement for a good essay. Try to keep the honesty relevant, however; focus on your strengths and events that show you in a positive light. Say only positive things about the school to which you’re applying.

In writing college essays, be they about an important event or a person you admire, you should give a hint as to your preferences, interests, and academic aspirations. So art students, go ahead and wax poetic about your first blue ribbon, and sports majors, go ahead and eulogize about your favorite linebacker. The things you say in your essay may and should give hints to your character and values. So go ahead and disclose whether you’re Catholic-schooled or home-schooled, if it’s relevant. Lastly, how you express yourself in the essay and should reveal how you will approach your studies. Maybe your writing’s too poetic for the Institute of Technology, or too technical for the liberal arts college. The better the fit your essay displays, the better your chances of getting in.

Featured Video: How to Write a Foolproof College Application Essay

Guidelines When Writing College Essays

Type the essay on your computer and print up the essay when you’ve finished.  Keep the printed copy and write your changes on it.

The following day, return to the computer and make the adjustments.  Allow the essay to sit a day before taking a look at it again for further adjustments.

♦ Length – conform to guidelines given; most college and scholarship essays are supposed to be with a specific word count.  If guidelines are not given, one page single-spaced or two pages double-spaced is appropriate.

♦ Use your own voice – informal, conversational, not stilted.

♦ While you may use some humor within an essay, don’t make the overall tone of the essay humorous or satirical.

♦ Watch your spelling.  Make sure not to confuse words such as it’s and its, there and their, led and lead, etc.  Remember, your spell-checker will not catch these kind of errors.

♦ Avoid overly familiar quotations or definitions.

♦ Don’t repeat lists of activities.

♦ Don’t let your mom or dad or anyone else write the essay.

♦ Dialogue works.

♦ Think small – anecdotes and rich details work.

♦ Be free with format.

♦ Don’t write about writing, SATs, or the college admissions process.

♦ Accentuate the positive – even in a painful experience.

♦ The first few sentences are critical and must engage the reader.

Goals of the College Admissions Essay

♦ To help the reader get to know you – look at the essay as a window to your personality, values, and goals

♦ To illustrate your uniqueness

♦ To enable the reader to evaluate your writing

♦ To help the reader create a full, memorable picture of you.

How To Write the College Admissions Essay

♦ Decide your message first.

♦ Write as if you are brainstorming – then revise.

♦ Spend as much time thinking as you do writing.

♦ If you are stuck, have a brainstorming session with someone close to you.

♦ If you write about an activity or an experience, focus not on how good you are or what you have accomplished, but what it means to you.

♦ Don’t ask yourself or anyone else “What should I write about?” The appropriate question is, ”What should I tell them about me?” Reorganize your thinking. Test the “success” of your essay by asking someone to read it and then asking NOT “Do you like it?” “What do you think it says about me?”

♦ Ask yourself, “If college deans were to place me with roommates based on this essay, would they be able to choose compatible people? Would it give them enough to go on?”

♦ Use a reference to keep a consistent style to your essay.  – The Elements of Style (4th Edition) by William Struck, Jr. and E.B. White, is highly recommended to help you keep a standard writing style throughout your essay.