Conquer Your College Essay

The One-and-Only Most Awesome Guide to Application Essay Writing Ever

College application essays are the part everyone puts off for last. The vague prompts offer little help to students who are trying to impress their future schools, and the process can be very stressful for those who don’t think they write well. NEVER FEAR! I have a few ideas for making your essay stand out to the admissions office that should also make it easier and more fun to write.

1.       Remember the goal of the admissions essay.

       It took me two months to write my application essay as a senior because I was positive that my writing was not at a college level. I just knew that my admissions counselors would read over the paper with disdain for my weak vocabulary and inability to communicate my ideas, and the writing process was slow because of this.
       So, yes, the point of the application essay is to display your writing abilities and style. However, that’s not all it’s about. Admissions counselors are reading your essay to learn about YOU. They want to hear your perspective on an issue or about something that happened to you that changed the way you encounter the world. The real aim of this essay, the reason that applications continue to ask for it, is to give readers a picture of your personality before they meet you in person. They won’t be looking for perfect writing because you are supposed to grow in college, and you can’t do that by starting out with no place to go. They will be looking for you to express something about yourself while at the same time showing whatever writing strengths you have.

2.       Pick a topic—just one!

       It seems counterproductive to write about only one aspect of yourself when you have been told to show your well-roundedness and complexity, but a scrambled essay full of many thoughts and topics won’t do any good either. Pick one topic—a defining moment in your life, a side of yourself you wish to change, a project you have done or one you hope to do—whatever fits the prompt of your application essay. It sounds challenging, but try to highlight different things about yourself within this single topic, drawing from diverse experiences to strengthen your discussion of a specific event or aspect.
       Fun fact: I re-wrote my essay probably twenty times before I chose the one I liked best. Avoid this problem by planning before you write: make a list of potential topics and then list what you would include in each one. Start them all if you wish, and pick the essay you will be most passionate about writing. At the same time, don’t be afraid to let your writing evolve. If the final product differs from what you thought it would be when you started, that’s fine!

3.       Keep it interesting.

       Admissions offices receive hundreds to thousands of applications and essays every fall, and they have to read through each one individually. Treat your essay like any other paper for class—eliminate the unnecessary thoughts so that every line is vital to your story and keeps your reader learning more about you. Just like in elementary school, remember to start with a hook. A good way to distinguish your paper from the stacks upon stacks of applications is to capture your reader’s attention at the very top of the page (maybe that’s why so much of elementary school was geared toward writing “hooks?”)—but then make sure to keep them engaged with your active sentences.

4.       But at the same time—keep it short.

       You may be one of the lucky college applicants who has a topic in mind and a story to tell, and that’s awesome! Just be sure not to write too much. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to share your background with your peers and professors once you’re in college, but admissions offices just don’t have time. Aim to meet the requirements of each application, whether that be a minimum or maximum word count or a specific structure, but don’t go overboard. Concise writing is more powerful to start with, but you also don’t want to bore your audience. Sometimes even interesting papers can be too long if they get off topic or repeat information.

        Unfortunately, this is probably not actually the most awesome application essay-writing guide out there, but I hope that it helps! The main point is that your essay reflects who you are and who you wish to become. Those sound like big, hard thoughts, but remember that you don’t have to be perfect. College would literally be no fun if you already knew it all. Happy writing!

BY: Jessica Myer ’18

Banner photography captured by honors scholar, Ferris Ellis.