The dreaded college essay…your chance to show you are the perfect fit for your school of choice. Colleges want to see that you have a good understanding of who you are and what is going on in the world around you. They also want to see that you have a good understanding of how you fit in with that world around you.
The essay is evaluated on two basic criteria: the form and the content. Both parts of the essay are critical at highly competitive schools. At the less competitive schools, they are first looking at the essay to demonstrate your writing ability, and then they are evaluating the content. However, content is still important because it is one of your only chances to plead your case as to why you are a good match for the school. For this reason, the essay is the most difficult part of the application and takes the most time to complete. While admission officers are reading, they are asking themselves:
- Can this student compose a basic five-paragraph essay with an introduction, body, and conclusion?
- Do they give adequate examples to support their thesis?
- Does it flow logically and gracefully?
At any school it is important that your essay is grammatically sound. So we urge you to have at least one or more people read your essay for you. Here are six other simple yet effective tips to help you write a college essay that stands out and gets you in.
1. Show confidence with the active voice
The active voice is a much more powerful way of explaining your past experiences. It gives the writer responsibility for what she has accomplished or learned and should be used wherever possible. What’s the difference between the active voice and passive voice? Here are two examples:
Passive: The book was read by Jaime.
Active: Jaime read the book.
Passive: At the children’s Christmas party, there was much celebration of the season by the children and teachers.
Active: At the children’s Christmas party, both the children and teachers celebrated the season.
By using the active voice, you leave no doubt who has completed the action. A good college admission essay should be clear, concise, and confident; using the active voice is a good way to make sure of that. How could you rewrite the following sentences to use the active voice instead of the passive voice?
- My dreams of becoming a doctor can be realized by first completing the pre-med program at your school.
- The students are failed by the teacher whenever they use the passive voice.
- There is one more test to be taken for finals.
- All the research from the group project was done by Alison.
- The purpose of the class should be made obvious in the first five minutes.
2. Make proper use of semicolons
Semicolons are used to separate independent clauses. You can use a semicolon if you are joining two independent clauses that are related in one sentence. An independent clause is one that can stand on its own as a sentence:
Matt loved to play baseball; he carried his mitt around all day.
The parts of the sentence before and after the semicolon are independent clauses. We know that because if we replace the semicolon with a period, we would have two full sentences. Semicolons are also used when separating a number of things in a list that are already separated by commas:
I brought a football, just in case we needed something to do; a flashlight, if we needed to go out to collect firewood at night; an extra gallon of water for a really hot day; and a first aid kit, if anyone had any injuries while hiking.
3. Be confident in your opinions
The reader wants to know how you think and feel, and because you are the author of this essay, we can assume that you will be sharing your thoughts and opinions. You should be assertive about your opinions and experiences. Do not write “maybe,” “might,” “perhaps,” or “It could be possible…” Say what you have to say with conviction. If you do not believe what you are writing, no one else will either.
4. Blend transitional words
A simple but effective technique is to hide transitional words within sentences rather than at the beginning or end. When you use words like “however,” “thus,” “yet,” and “therefore,” you want to put them in the middle of the sentence instead. You might say something like: “However, she felt that his apology was insincere.” Instead you could write: “She felt, however, that his apology was insincere.” This practice helps ensure a smooth flow for your sentences and puts more emphasis on the points you are making instead of the words you are using to connect them.
5. Be consistent with pronouns
Decide on how you will address people; you may choose “you” or “one,” for example. Either works, but just be sure that you are consistent throughout. If you are talking about people in general or making general statements like, “One must understand the importance of friendship,” the “one” and the “you” are interchangeable as long as you use the same word consistently throughout your essay.
6. Give yourself plenty of time to write and edit
Summarizing all of your hopes, dreams, and aspirations in 250–500 words might seem impossible to you. Instead of telling them your life story, you must give the reader a reason to want to know more, a little like a movie trailer for a blockbuster film. This can take a while to perfect, so you must be certain to leave yourself adequate time to prepare your essay. We recommend that you start it over the summer between junior and senior year of high school, if not earlier. The best writers are those who go through several revisions. If you start the essay the night before it is due, then it will not represent your best work.
Writing the "perfect" college admission essay can seem overwhelming, especially when you're dying to get into your top-choice school. But there are ways to make your essays stand out to admission officers. Start with these six powerful writing tips and you'll be off to a great start.
Looking for even more college essay tips and tricks? Explore all the expert advice on CollegeXpress!