Much like a first date, the college essay can spawn fear in the hearts of many. It’s one of the most important branding tools of the application process you can use to get colleges to notice you. And it’s a requirement for the majority of college applications, whether you use the Common App, a college’s online form, or a printed application. It’s basically a tool to give schools a peek into your personality so they can see if you match with their mission and values. They want to know what is so special about you compared to the hundreds or even thousands of other applicants pleading for a spot on their campus. With proper preparation and a pinch of self-reflection, you’ll have a stellar essay to showcase what makes you the best candidate to get into your top schools.
If you were out to dinner on a first date, dressed to the nines, at the nicest restaurant in town, you wouldn’t order the first thing you see on the menu. You would consider all your options and order the item least likely to make you look silly in front of your person of interest. The college essay is no different. It’s important to take your time in order to write the best essay possible. Heaven forbid you order a rack of ribs on your date. If you don’t carefully consider what a college wants to know about you, your essay might be a disaster, like barbecue sauce all over your face.
The first order of business is to flesh out a topic. What makes you tick? What is that one thing you love to talk about? The best topics to write about are things you feel passionate for. Clubs and activities are great topics, but beware of being cliché, especially if the activity is a common one like soccer or basketball.
If you have a special story that inspires good feelings and a great first impression, by all means share! College reps want to know the great things that make you, well, you. Just like a date, though, avoid building yourself up too much to the point of arrogance, and try not to diverge the topic to controversial opinions or stories of other people. Keep the spotlight on you and all your good experiences; for example, how a team sport deepened your understanding of unity, or what you learned from a field trip or visit to another country. Unique experiences are golden opportunities to make your essay stand out from all the other “suitors” in the crowd.
With all this in mind, be yourself and be passionate. Things you care about will stand out through your writing and maybe give you a second look at colleges that are outside your safety zone. With a little soul searching and a bit of passion, your college essay can go a long way in helping you reach your “Mr. or Ms. Right” school.