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Tips for Writing a College Admissions Essay

High school student reflects on her college admissions essay before submitting

By IvyWise College Admissions Counselors

The college application essay is an opportunity to explain yourself and to share your voice, talents, goals, and personality with the admissions committee. It’s also a chance to display your thought processes and carefully crafted writing style. If you are a current junior, you may think that it’s too early to begin drafting a personal statement. Getting your initial thoughts down on paper might feel challenging, but don’t let this process intimidate you. Sit down and express yourself! The sooner you get started, the more time you will have to polish and refine before you submit your application.

When writing your college application essay, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that you craft the most compelling and authentic personal statement. The essay alone won’t guarantee admission to your top-choice schools, but a great essay can be the difference between the “no” and the “let me think about it” piles.

Here are my top tips for writing your college admissions essay.

Read All the Directions (and Then Re-Read Them)

Carefully pay attention to the details in the essay prompt and select a topic based on the directions provided. If a word limit is included, stay within its bounds. Following directions is a key skill, and though colleges are not necessarily testing you on this, your essay should not exceed the required length. Also, some directions include several parts, so making sure you address everything is always a good idea.

Know Your Audience

Your college essay is going to be read by one or more professionals who are assessing your ability to succeed at their university or college. A good rule of thumb is to craft the essay as if it were a class assignment. Avoid slang, text language, curse words, and inappropriate topics. If unsure, share your essay with a teacher or counselor for a second opinion.

Choose a Familiar Topic

When you write about something meaningful or important to you, the essay will naturally be more sincere and effective. Ideally, the essay should reflect your distinctive personality and life experiences. It’s recommended to avoid generic themes (such as scoring the winning soccer goal) unless you have an extraordinary or unusual perspective to share.

Let Your Personality Shine!

One of the signs of a good writer is showing instead of telling. Instead of stating that you are caring or adventurous, show us in your essay by sharing an example or quick story. For example, if you are a curious person and feel comfortable, share a tale of where your curiosity has taken you. Also, let your natural voice come through. Colleges expect first-year applicants to sound like someone in their teens, so go ahead. You have my permission to throw out the thesaurus.

Write an Essay, Not a Resumé or a List

Remember, you are writing your essay as though it is a classroom assignment. If you want to provide detailed information about extracurricular activities, there are other places you can do so. In fact, the Common Application allows you to list up to 10 extracurricular activities with descriptions. Some colleges also allow students to include a resumé or activity sheet, but double-check with the admissions office before providing one.

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

Look carefully for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Common mistakes often include confusing similarly spelled words (spell check doesn’t catch everything), referencing the wrong college name in your essay (yikes!), and neglecting to insert commas or capitalize correctly. Reading your essay out loud can help you catch some of these mistakes.

Be Authentic

Receiving help and advice from people you are close with — teachers, friends, and parents — is a helpful way to ensure your essay conveys who you are. But remember, this is your essay. It should reflect your thoughts, ideas, and writing style. Others can help proofread your essay when you are finished, but in the end, you must be happy with the finished product.

The college application essay can be the most daunting part of the admissions process for prospective applicants. However, it doesn’t have to be. Start early, take your time, be yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. At IvyWise, we work with students through every facet of the admissions process, including assistance with college application essays. Our team of expert counselors can help you brainstorm relevant topics and provide comprehensive feedback on every draft of your essay until it is ready for submission. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services and how we can help you with your admissions essays.

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