The college application essay has become a very important component in a candidate’s ability to stand out from the crowded field vying for acceptance to a university. In the application itself, students have opportunities to list honors, describe activities, and report GPA and test scores. The essay is the place where a student can actually be heard and show personality. The Admission Committees are reviewing thousands of essays each year. The majority of these essays are very well-written. A perfectly written, well-researched essay may earn an A in English class, but it is likely to blend in with all the others in the college application arena. So how does a student stand out from the crowd?
The first step is to spend some time really reviewing the prompts to select one that will allow for a personal story. This does not have to be a story about a grand achievement or adventure. The best college application essays are those where the student’s passion comes through. The Coalition and the Common App release a list of prompts each year. While reviewing the prompts and forming a writing plan, students should always think about how many other students could write about what they are considering for their topic. If a student writes a great essay about technology being a blessing and a curse for teenagers these days, just about every other teenager could write the same essay. There needs to be a personal connection to the topic to have it resonate with the reader.
Once a prompt and topic have been decided, students should let their ideas come out in the rough draft without being too focused on mechanics. If the topic is good, spelling and grammatical errors can be identified and addressed through editing, rewriting, and polishing. The College Board offers 8 Tips for Your Best College Application Essay:
- Get started by brainstorming
- Let your first draft flow
- Develop three essay parts
- Be specific
- Find a creative angle
- Be honest
- Get feedback
- Proofread and make corrections
Know Your Audience
While it is important to let your individuality shine, students also need to be careful. In the effort to personalize and have their voices heard, many students become too informal and conversational in their college application essays. Students should be cautious when trying to inject humor and also avoid casual second person references – you know? This is an academic essay; students should maintain a mature tone and steer clear of slang. It is also important to remember the information admission officers will get through the actual application. This is not the place to list awards or talk about all the student’s extracurricular activities.
This can be the place to pull the unifying thread in the application together by telling a story that highlights a “theme” in the application.
I discussed the intricacies of the word limit in an earlier blog. The Coalition App and the Common App have different word limits. However, many schools have their own school-specific college application essay word limit. Students should be aware of the confines of the word limit for the essay they are writing as they are working on their rough draft. The essay does not have to go to the limit. It is better to be clear and under the limit than too wordy with repetition and unnecessary information.
The Winning Essay!
With the volume of applications colleges receive these days, the essay can be the determining factor between two candidates with near identical stats.
- Students should check, double check, and triple check their essays before submitting. If a trusted advisor or friend is not available to proofread, there are many online proofreading services; students should always have another set of eyes look over the college application essay.
- If a student isn’t a natural writer and seems to be hitting a roadblock with the process, free-writing exercises are wonderful as a warm-up activity. Get a journal and write, write, write without the pressure of a formal essay. This will help to start the writing process flow.
- Reading the essay aloud is an effective way for students to catch grammatical errors, missing words, and repetitive phrases. When reading silently, students often “hear” what they meant to say and not what is actually on the page. This is also a good way for students to hear their own written voice. Knowing and owning one’s written voice is an essential skill in college.