Applying to college involves more than filling out some paperwork and submitting your high school transcripts with a list of your achievements. You will also have to write an essay. Even if you’re a straight-A student who also happens to be a published author, writing your college application essay can be incredibly nerve-wracking.
Writing a good college application essay is important. After all, it could technically make or break your chances of getting into your dream school. How? If two students applying to the same college have similar grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities yet one wrote a fantastic essay while the other’s was mediocre … well, you get the drift.
Nearly 500 colleges and universities now accept the Common Application, which requires students to answer one of the required essay prompts in 250 to 500 words. If you’re applying to more than one college—which is “common” when filling out the Common App—you will still submit the same admission essay to all of the schools. (Some colleges do request a customized essay, but they request it on a supplement form.)
You’ll quickly realize that even the maximum 500 word requirement isn’t very long. If you keep your sentences short and sweet, it’s possible to get your message across and hopefully knock the socks off of the admissions officers who read your essay. Here are 10 other college application essay tips and tricks to consider:
1. Write about the given topic. College applications—including the Common App—often present students with multiple essay prompts. It’s up to the student to decide which prompt to choose. These prompts can be questions to answer, fill-in-the-blanks, or something else entirely. Read them carefully and make sure you understand what you are supposed to write about.
2. Don’t just re-word your application. Your college application itself is already highlighting your academic achievements and extracurricular activities. If you volunteer at a pet shelter on the weekends, take music lessons, or have a part-time job—and you’ve mentioned these things on your application—try to cover another aspect of your life in your essay.
3. Tell your story—not someone else’s. If you write about a relationship, an experience that you had with someone, or a person who made a big influence on your life, tell your side of the story and how the experience affected you. Admissions counselors want to know why you would be a good fit at their college or university. They don’t want to hear about your friend or cousin.
4. Use your own voice. Resist the urge to sound impressive or overly wordy, and don’t rely on a thesaurus! You don’t need to pretend you’re filling a page in your daily diary, but write in your own voice as if you’re speaking to the person reading your essay. Avoid the use of clichés like “chip off the old block” or “busy as a bee.”
5. Don’t cheat. Speaking of using your own voice, write your own essay. Don’t let your mom or dad write it for you. Don’t buy an essay online. College admissions counselors read hundreds if not thousands of essays each year. Even if you are the best writer in your entire school, they can tell the difference between an essay written by a high school student and an essay written by an adult.
6. Don’t wait until the night before the application is due. When you procrastinate, or put something off as long as humanly possible, you can cause yourself a lot of unnecessary stress. You might even make yourself feel guilty. If you wait until the last minute to write your college application essay, you will rush and possibly make mistakes that could have been avoided. You won’t have time to share your essay with a teacher for proofreading, either.
7. Proofread and revise. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when you finish writing your essay, but resist the urge to click “submit” as soon as you’re done. You will want to proofread for spelling and grammatical errors and possibly even revise your essay.
8. Read it out loud. When you think you’re finished, read your essay out loud. If it sounds a little bit “off,” then chances are something isn’t written the way you intended for it to be.
9. Seek feedback, but don’t go overboard. It’s a good idea to share your essay with your English teacher or guidance counselor, but you don’t have to seek feedback from every adult you know. Getting opinion after opinion on your work might drive you crazy or cause you to trash your essay and start from scratch—which is probably unnecessary.
10. Try not to stress out. Even though applying to college stresses out a lot of people, try your best to stay grounded. You shouldn’t take your application essay lightly, but you should also remind yourself that it’s an essay. It’s not the end of the world! You’ll have to write plenty of other essays in your lifetime.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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