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!

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