Unlike every other aspect of the application, you control your essay. Make sure that the glimpse you give the admission committee into your character, background, and writing ability is the very best possible.
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Keep these key application essay tips in mind as you write:
1. Don't "thesaurus-ize" your college application essay. Do use your own voice.
Admission officers can tell Roget from a high school senior. Big words, especially when misused, detract from the essay, inappropriately drawing the reader's attention and making the essay sound contrived.
Before: Although I did a plethora of activities in high school, my assiduous efforts enabled me to succeed.
After: Although I juggled many activities in high school, I succeeded through persistent work.
2. Don't bore the reader. Do be interesting.
Admission officers have to read hundreds of college application essays, and they must often skim. They're not looking for a new way to view the world; they're looking for a new way to view you, the applicant. When writing your application essay, you don't want it to blend in with all the others.
Before: The college admission and selection process is a very important one, perhaps one that will have the greatest impact on one's future. The college that a person will go to often influences his personality, views, and career.
After: An outside observer would have called the scene ridiculous: a respectable physician holding the bell of his stethoscope to the chest of a small stuffed bear.
3. Do use personal detail. Show, don't tell!
A good college admission essay is concrete and grounded in personal detail. It does not merely assert "I learned my lesson" or that "these lessons are useful both on and off the field." The essay shows it through personal detail.
Before: I developed a new compassion for the disabled.
After: The next time Mrs. Cooper asked me to help her across the street, I smiled and immediately took her arm.
4. Do be concise in your college application essay.
Wordiness not only takes up valuable space, but it also can confuse the important ideas you're trying to convey. Short sentences are more forceful because they are direct and to the point.
Before: My recognition of the fact that the project was finally over was a deeply satisfying moment that will forever linger in my memory.
After: Completing the project at last gave me an enduring sense of fulfillment.
5. Don't use slang.
Appropriate language should be used in college admission essays. Slang terms, clichés, contractions, and an excessively casual tone should be eliminated. Here's one example of inappropriate language:
Well here I am thinking about what makes me tick. You would be surprised. What really gets my goat is when kids disrespect the flag. My father was in 'Nam and I know how important the military is to this great nation.
6. Do vary your sentences and use transitions.
Your college application essay should contain a variety of sentence lengths mixed within any given paragraph. Also, remember that transition is not limited to words like nevertheless, furthermore or consequently.
Before: I started playing piano when I was eight years old. I worked hard to learn difficult pieces. I began to love music.
After: I started playing the piano at the age of eight. As I learned to play more difficult pieces, my appreciation for music deepened.
7. Do use active-voice verbs in your college admission essay.
Passive-voice expressions are verb phrases in which the subject receives the action expressed in the verb. Passive voice employs a form of the verb to be, such as was or were. Overuse of the passive voice makes prose seem flat and uninteresting.
Before: The lessons that prepared me for college were taught to me by my mother.
After: My mother taught me lessons that will prepare me for college.
8. Do seek multiple opinions.
After writing your application essay, ask your friends and family to read it and to keep these questions in mind:
- Have I answered the question?
- Does my introduction engage the reader? Does my conclusion provide closure?
- Do I use concrete experiences as supporting details?
- Have I used active-voice verbs wherever possible?
- Is my sentence structure varied, or do I use all long or short sentences?
- Are there any clichés such as cutting edge or learned my lesson?
- Do I use transitions appropriately?
- What about the essay is memorable? What's the worst part of the essay?
- What parts of the essay need elaboration or are unclear?
- What parts of the essay do not support my main argument?
- Is every single sentence crucial to the essay? This must be the case.
- What does the essay reveal about my personality?
9. Do answer the question.
Many students try to turn 500-word college application essays into a complete autobiography. Not surprisingly, they fail to answer the question. Make sure that every sentence in your essay exists solely to answer the question.
10. Do revise, revise, revise.
The first step in improving any essay is to cut, cut, and cut some more!
Following these application essay tips will put you on the path to writing an essay that will help you stand out from the crowd. Remember that you have control over the essay — do all that you can to show the admissions committee who you are.