Apr   2016



6 Tips for Writing Your College Application Essay

Student, Smithsburg High School

When I first started applying to colleges, I could hardly wait to begin. It would be fun! Easy, even. I didn't mind writing essays. But as I stared at the admission prompts, all of that excitement dissipated very quickly.

I suddenly felt completely unqualified to answer a single one of the questions. An event that marked my transition from childhood to adulthood? I felt like that was sure to be college, which I had yet to experience. Recount a time I experienced a failure? How could I begin to choose just one? And besides, they were all too insignificant or embarrassing to write an essay about. A background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful my application would be incomplete without it? I didn't think I'd ever felt strongly enough about anything in my life that my college application wouldn't be the same if it were left out.

I didn't know what to do. So I waited to see if a significant life event happened upon me that summer. And it did. It came in the form of an eight-day-long trip to Haiti. But there's no reason to jump on a plane and travel hundreds of miles away in order to find inspiration for college application essays. Start with these simple tips:

1. Make a list of the most vivid memories from your life

One of these events will probably apply in some way to at least one topic, and from there you can expand the event to reflect you, your desires for college and careers, and how that experience led you, in some way, to where you are today.

2. Write about the experience, interest, or idea

Don't worry about answering the essay in its entirety. Treat it like a diary entry. Just get the significance down. Your essay should reflect, above all else, your personality. Worry about that first and answering the specifics later.

3. Think about where you want to be 10 years from now

If the essay prompt makes it applicable, find a way to connect your idea, experience, or interest to your greater life goals.

4. Use online tools to evaluate your writing level

WordCounter.net will give you an approximate grade level of your writing. Your essay should be around an 11th­­–12 th grade level.

5. If your essay is below what college admissions would expect, try using a thesaurus to spruce up your vocabulary

However, make sure you truly know the meaning of the word you're using and that it’s not an unnecessarily complex word when a simpler word would suffice. Consider varying your sentence types. And of course, ask a teacher, friend, or relative to look over your essay and give any suggestions on how to improve it.

6. If your essay is painful to write, it's probably painful to read

So try to have fun. If what you're writing about bores you, it will bore the admissions counselor too. Scrap it and start over. College application essays should be more than purely academic; they should show more than just your intellect. They should reflect you: what excites you, what makes you different from other applicants, and what makes you a good candidate for the school you are applying to.

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