Tag Archives: essay writing tips

Let’s Write a Winning College Application Essay!

writing a college application essay

Why is it that most students freeze up when it comes to writing the college application essay? It’s an essay about a topic you know very well: yourself.

Many students think that in order to write a great essay, they have to be a straight-A student or a star athlete or have done volunteer work in a Nicaraguan orphanage over the summer. In fact, the beauty of the college application essay is that it’s not about what you’ve done – it’s about how well you’re able to write about yourself. Anyone can write a great essay if they focus on the right things.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing the best college application essay you can:

Brainstorm

The essay is a chance for the college application officers to get to know you better. Think about something that you wish to communicate about yourself. If you already know what you want to write about, great! If not, sit down and make a list of your personality traits, activities, strengths and passions. Talk to your friends, teachers, coaches or parents and ask them if they would add anything to the list. Sometimes an outside perspective can help you see things you weren’t aware of.

Identify your strengths

If you are a star athlete, straight-A student, class president, or some other form of superlative, then the essay will probably be made infinitely easier. But most people aren’t stars. You’ve got to work with the strengths you do possess. Maybe you’re not the best athlete at your school. Maybe you’re a middle ranking one. But, maybe you started out at the bottom of the pack and worked your way up. Instead of quitting, you now secure your position on the team and support the star athletes who couldn’t do it without you. Maybe you never missed a practice. Maybe you also have strong leadership skills or have a knack for boosting team morale and were voted player of the year. Those things are worth mentioning to a college application officer. Don’t think about generic ideas of strengths. You don’t have to be number one. You just have to recognize what’s great about you.

Tell them about your passions

What do you enjoy doing with your time? Are you an artist? An IT fanatic? Do you enjoy leadership positions and participate in the student body? Are you a musician? An actor? An environmentalist? Are you an introvert who sits quietly in the library during lunch and writes poetry? What’s your thing? If you have a calling, write about it. Describe how that activity makes you feel. Have you earned any accolades or awards, officially or unofficially for your talent? Include them.

Don’t be boring

Admissions counselors will love you if you write something creative and original. Do you have any idea how many essays they have to read each year? A lot of students are afraid to say something that the counselors won’t like and end up taking the safe route instead of daring to be different. Be creative, look at the question or subject from a different angle. Explore an uncommon point of view. Just don’t be boring!

Don’t be afraid of controversy

Don’t be afraid to tackle controversy in your essay. If there’s a specific issue that you feel strongly about, express it. Maybe you’re anti-war and feel that the past two presidential administrations spent too much time and energy fighting wars abroad. Maybe you’re pro-war and you feel that the nation’s military programs need to be expanded. Whatever your stance on the subject you choose, make sure you allow time to consider counterarguments and give examples of why you feel so strongly and how this particular issue affects you.

Don’t make a list

Don’t write a resume or make a list of your accomplishments. There should be plenty of space to list them on the rest of your application. The application essay should have a specific theme that you identify in the beginning and carry through to the end. Don’t try to talk about a bunch of different topics and experiences. It will sound muddled and it’s not the point of the essay. The point of the essay is for the college application officers to see how well you can express yourself and to get to know your personality, not just your test scores. They want to see the student behind the grades and numbers.

Write in your own voice

If you had some assistance from someone else, especially if it’s an adult, in crafting your essay, please make sure that the final outcome has your own voice. Admissions counselors will be able to tell if the essay was mainly written by a parent or if it reflects a student’s viewpoint. Remember, they don’t want a perfect paper. They want to get to know you better. And hiding behind the sophisticated language of adults isn’t going to allow them to accomplish that. By trying to craft the perfect essay, you will end up robbing the readers of the opportunity to find out who you are.

Ask for feedback

You may want to show your essay to a trusted teacher or your college counselor or a parent or your friend. Or all of the above. Getting someone else’s feedback may help you identify weaknesses in your essay that you could address before submitting it. But remember that the essay is yours and if you don’t agree with the advice, don’t take it.

How to self-edit

Read it through several times out loud. Reading out loud is a much more effective way to spot awkward phrasing and errors than reading to yourself. If you find yourself stumbling over your words, go back and edit. Keep editing and re-reading out loud until it comes out smoothly. Rigorously submit it to spelling, grammar and punctuation checks. If those things aren’t your strong suit, let someone else with better editing skills read it.

Good luck on your college applications!

10 Essay Writing Tips For College Students

college essay writing tips

Freshman college students often feel overwhelmed by the new set of expectations on their essay writing. What earned them praise in high school may no longer meet the criteria of their college professors. Though the learning curve may be steep, students often find that by their junior and senior years, their essay writing skills have become finely honed.

Here are some tips for college students on how to write excellent essays:

Organize your ideas

Some students need to write outlines in order to organize their thoughts. Outlines are kind of like training wheels that are the teacher’s way of helping you learn how to organize an argument. If you don’t need an outline anymore, you may want to just write down some key ideas and sentences to get you started.

Write your essay out of order

Many students find it difficult to write the introduction first. They know what their argument is going to be and how they’re going to defend it, but they don’t know how to introduce those ideas to the reader just yet. So, skip the introduction and get straight to the body paragraphs. You’ll find that after working through your arguments and supporting your thesis, you’ll have an easier time writing the introduction.

Introductions

Okay, so now it’s time to actually write the introduction. Whether you’ve opted to write it first, second or last, there are good introductions and there are not so good introductions.

Some of them to avoid:

  • General introductions. Introductions like “Human history shows that man has always been obsessed with technology.”
  • Dictionary definitions. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “law” as “the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties.” This is not only boring, but it’s stating the obvious. Everyone knows what “law” means. What’s different about your take on the law that will show us something we didn’t know before? That’s an interesting introduction.

Some introductions to adopt:

  • Ask a thought-provoking question. Something that will get your readers thinking about this subject and eager to read your arguments
  • Provide an interesting anecdote.  An anecdote can provide a great lead into your arguments by telling a compelling story.
  • Open with a strong quotation. Sometimes a quotation says it like nothing else. If you have that perfect quotation that will nail the essence of your essay, use it.

Conclusions

Conclusions can be just as tricky as introductions. You’ve done your research, you’ve presented your arguments, and…now what?

A good conclusion should achieve the following:

  • Leave your readers pondering the arguments you raised.
  • Make them feel they learned something useful.
  • Impress them with your knowledge of the topic.

One of the best ways to write a great conclusion is thinking about the next steps of the issue you’re arguing. If you’re arguing about legalizing gay marriage, for example, think about what are some of the next steps involved in this issue. What are the implications for the future?

How to research

Sometimes, a professor asks you to read a specific text and write a paper on it. In that case, you should read that text with the topic question in mind:

  • Take notes on sections that reflect the topic.
  • Use a highlighter to highlight sentences that will support your argument or serve as counterarguments.
  • Write down questions that could provide topics for further research.
  • Ask yourself what may be missing from the author’s argument? What other perspective might they have taken? Have you read other texts that provide complimentary arguments? What have other experts argued?

Avoid plagiarism

There are two kinds of plagiarism: blatant copying and simply rewording an argument. The first one is pretty straightforward and usually completely intentional: you’ve simply cut and pasted someone else’s text into your paper without giving credit. Depending on the frequency and degree to which it’s done, it can result in suspension, grade deflation or even expulsion.

The second type of plagiarism is trickier because sometimes students do this without even realizing it. You should do research and seek out the knowledge of experts in the subject. But you shouldn’t copy their argument and original ideas. The point of writing a paper is to practice coming up with your own argument based on the reading you’ve done.

Don’t over-quote

Okay, so you’ll avoid plagiarism by quoting your sources and giving them credit for it. And the occasional quote from an expert that clearly supports and illustrates your point is fine. But sometimes students rely too much on quoting others that they forget to develop and write their own paper. A couple of well-chosen quotes will show the professor that you did a good job with your research. But littering your paper with quotes will rob you of the chance to develop your own writing style and make it impossible for the professor to evaluate your ability to argue a topic.

Don’t write last-minute papers

Editing and rewriting can do worlds of good for your paper. It will help you work out the kinks in your argument, correct grammar issues, and leave your paper so polished it practically sparkles. But, editing also requires time. Not just for the editing itself but for you to have time away from your paper to let your thoughts settle, so you can look at it again with fresh eyes. Don’t leave your writing assignments to the last minute. Start on them as soon as possible so that you can leave yourself the time it takes to do an A+ editing job.

How to edit a paper

Here are some quick tips for your editing process:

  • Remove any sentences that use the passive voice.
  • Make sure you used the correct version of commonly confused words such as their vs. they’re, your vs. you’re, its vs. it’s.
  • Read each paragraph out loud and make corrections. You’ll be looking for grammar mistakes, awkward phrasing, holes in your argument, missing information to support your argument or miscellaneous information that could be left out.

Works Cited

A lot of students lose points because they haven’t learned how to format the Works Cited page. It’s best to learn it once and for all since you’ll be using it for every paper you write throughout college and beyond. Here’s a source that lays it out simply for you: http://writingcommons.org/process/format/formatting-styles/mla-formatting/608-formatting-the-works-cited-page-mla.