The process of applying to college has become more advanced and complex, especially with schools like the University of California and California State University going test-blind. And with many other schools going test-optional, you may ask yourself: What admission requirements matter most to colleges? These new admission policies show that some colleges don’t think standardized test scores are a good or bad indication of a student’s academic worth. In my experience, I found the UC application process was based mainly off my GPA, extracurriculars, and essays. Other students I’ve encountered throughout the admission process have reported that essays in particular have had a significant effect on admission, as many applicants with extensive activities, community involvement, and perfect GPAs were waitlisted or rejected from some UC campuses. So that begs another question: How can you write an essay that carries the weight of who you are?
What’s the secret to a great admission essay?
Spoiler: There is no secret formula to writing the perfect college essay—but I’ve found that students who weave their extracurriculars into personal, meaningful stories have higher rates of admission. Instead of simply saying, “Volunteering helped me make an impact on the world and taught me to be selfless,” you should explain how volunteering was self-fulfilling and how the experience propelled your curiosity to learn more. The important points should be easy to make in your essay if you’re truly interested and genuinely passionate about your activities. Don’t write about the extracurriculars you don’t care about. The difficult part is structuring and properly wording your ideas. That’s where your writing toolbox comes in.
Your writing toolbox
Your writing toolbox contains the various skills and methods you use to craft an essay. One crucial tool to add to yours is personal voice. And although this may not fit everyone’s style of writing, dialogue is also worth a try. For example, if you’re describing your curiosity for a subject, bring up a time where that curiosity led to something unexpected happening and convey it through dialogue. Similes, metaphors, and allusions are other helpful tools that can help enhance your admission essays. Try alluding to a popular book, movie, or person while describing your emotions; for example, “I was so nervous, my hands felt as cold as Elsa’s.” Depending on your individual style and command of writing, these tools may be smooth or blunt in terms of the flow of the paper. Don’t use tools you’re not comfortable with; unless you have a strong command of how to use an element of writing, metaphors and allusions can seem forced and your paper will seem inauthentic.
Inject emotions and lessons learned
Once you have some strong ideas, structure your admission essay starting with how you felt before, during, and after your extracurricular, internship, or other experience. Emphasize what it taught you and how you’ll use the lesson in the future. Instead of putting yourself on a pedestal for how well you did, highlight how you’ll become better through this learning experience. Additionally, with the proper use of dialogue, you can convey small, intense moments in a deep, rich way. This works extremely well with competitions too. If you’ve ever competed in mock trial, robotics, debate, or a sport, try using similes to show how you felt in a certain moment, how effective your tactics were, and how you felt after a success or failure. You can then relate all this back to your passion or character and how you can improve or use a specific skill.
As the world of admission changes, the weight of application essays cannot be understated. It’s the best way to represent you to a college admission committee. Many students do or compete in similar activities; however, the individual lessons you learn from them is specific to you. How you use those lessons is also unique, so strongly emphasize these elements in your essay using rhetorical tools. Although the rest of your application needs to be strong, essays will help boost your chances and show admission officers who you really are.
Still worried about writing a great essay? Check out Our Best Advice for College Application Essays for all the help you could need!