college essay tips
Don’t reuse an answer to a similar question from another application.
You don’t need to have started your own business or have spent the summer hiking the Appalachian Trail. Colleges are simply looking for thoughtful, motivated students who will add something to the first-year class.
“Instead of trying to come up with gimmicky, catchy first lines, start by sharing a moment,” says Janine Robinson, writing coach and founder of Essay Hell. “These mini stories naturally grab the reader … it’s the best way to really involve them in the story.”
2. Put yourself in the school’s position.
3. Write how you speak: If your friends, family members, and teachers would describe you as silly, outgoing, and uninhibited, why would you submit a collection of essays all written in a formal, subdued tone? (The same goes for you, introverts: if you’re quieter in person, write a quieter essay! Thoughtfulness, introspection, and an unassuming tone make for great college essays too!) Many college essay writers choose to tell me outright that their personality is this way or that way. Telling me that your friends would describe you as silly and outgoing is, unfortunately, not enough. As the admissions officer reading your application, I need proof – in the form of a written tone that matches your spoken one. As I read through your essays, I am crafting an image in my head of the person who will arrive on our campus in the fall if admitted. Your job is to arm me with examples of who this person is. Do this through not just in what you say but how you say it.
4. Show your essay to two people, and no more: Often the worst thing that can happen to a college essay is editing. Of course editing is important (spell check people), but when you have many different people giving you feedback, you often lose your voice in all the changes. You’re hidden behind perfect grammar, sterile language, and phrases thrown in because “it’s what admissions officers want to hear.” Let me demystify something for you: I hate the things you write because “it’s what admissions officers want to hear.” They’re boring. And forced. And misguided. Sometimes you need to disregard the conventions of English essay writing to make sure your tone and style are prominent. Then show your essays to two people – one who is a strong writer, and one who knows you really well (they can tell you if your essay is genuinely YOU). After that, I beg of you, stop.
5. If Nothing Else, Entertain: Imagine you’re a college essay reader at an upstanding academic institution and it is your job to read dozens of essays a day, every day, for weeks on end. Ninety percent of the essays that pass your desk are stone-cold boring, and maybe ten percent break through the fuzz and force you to pay attention. As an applicant, you want your essay to shine a bright light in the face of that oft-bored reader. No matter what your subject, serious, uplifting, sentimental or pithy, your essay should aim to entertain. This will require many elements working together in harmony. You will need a compelling subject, a direct and powerful narrative, impeccable grammar and a memorable style. A little laughter never hurts either. It is often hard to know whether an essay is truly entertaining until the end stages of writing, but when you are reading over your drafts, the question should always be in the back of your mind: Is this essay fun to read? Some students achieve entertainment value by being controversial. Others load their pieces with comic relief. Some are able to describe events in such detail that a reader simply must get to the end of the essay. No matter what tactics you end up using, your goal should be effortless and compelling readability.
Parents and students often ask us for our most valuable Common Application essay tips, so our savvy team of advisors compiled a list of simple, effective tricks to use as guidelines while you navigate the tricky waters of college essay writing. Try to use them for good and not for evil.
This college essay tip is by Kim Struglinski, admissions counselor from Vanderbilt University. The tip below is paraphrased from the excellent post “Tips for Writing Your College Essay” on the Vanderbilt blog.
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