Starting A College Admission Essay

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. Here are seven tips to help you focus and make the most of your application essay.

In our experience, the main worry that applicants have is that their essay won’t stand out. This is a legitimate concern as you will likely compete with numerous applicants who have backgrounds similar to yours. Therefore, follow these tips to ensure that your essay shines in the competitive admissions process.

1. Analyze the prompt thoroughly

Take three minutes to think about the prompt. If needed, divide the prompt into phrases and look at each aspect. Why would the admissions officers ask this prompt? What do you think they want to know? How does that information relate to your ability to excel in college? Next, leave the prompt for a while and then return to it. Do you see something new? 

With so many other things in your schedule, this process can initially seem like a waste of time. However, it will save you a lot of time in the long run. If you later realize that you misread the prompt, you might need to start the writing process from scratch. 

2. Organize your writing

Like the first item, this isn’t something that should take a lot of time. This is another step that can initially seem completely skippable, but organizing your writing can save you considerable stress and frustration. A good writing plan can streamline or even eliminate the need to do any significant rewrites.

Brainstorm your anecdotes. Create a rough outline, including approximately how long each paragraph needs to be in order to complete the essay within the word count limits. Finally, figure out when you’re going to write. A paragraph a day? The whole thing next weekend? Creating a schedule, even if you need to modify it later, gets your brain in motion. 

3. Show instead of telling

When selecting anecdotes for your essay, pick vivid ones that you can tell succinctly. If a story would require 450 words of a 600 word essay, then you’re not going to have a lot of space to express self-reflection and analysis of the situation. Remember that the admissions officers are more interested in your perspective of what happened than the events themselves.

In addition, keep in mind that the admissions officers don’t know you personally, and that’s why they’re reading your essay. They want to get to know you, and the essay is your first introduction. Because of this, don’t tell them that you’re passionate about public service. Show them through strong examples. Help the admissions officers envision each example as if they’re experiencing the situation alongside you. 

4. Know your vocab

Your admissions essay should reflect command of college-level vocabulary. One of the most common mistakes that we see in essays is using advanced vocabulary almost correctly. Even among synonyms, there are shades of meaning. If you’re using a thesaurus, look online for examples of that word in action. Will it still fit into your sentence?

Avoid overdoing it. Advanced vocabulary should be the spice of the essay to give it flavor, so you’ll use plain language most of the time. Essays that are riddled with advanced vocabulary can seem pompous or even inadvertently comical to the reader. 

5. Write succinctly

Can you say what you need to say in fewer words? Can you substitute an advanced vocabulary word for a phrase? Writing concisely expresses to the admissions officers that can organize your thoughts and that you respect their time. 

6. Combine like ideas into more sophisticated sentence structures

The vast majority of the sentences in your essay should be compound, complex, or a combination of both (compound-complex sentences). Save simple sentences for instances when you need to create impact.

7. Seek qualified second opinions

You should absolutely ask others to take a look at your essay before you submit it. As we work on things, we become blind to mistakes that will be glaringly apparent to others. However, limit the number of people you ask to two or three. Asking too many people for feedback will only confuse you and result in a lower quality essay as you revise the essay according to each person’s advice. Therefore, look to individuals who have background and expertise in the college admissions process.

 

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When you're writing your collegeadmissions essay, do not be boring!
A bland admission essaycan put an overworked college rep to sleep. I attended a conference once where an administrator at Yale University mentioned that 20 staffers at his Ivy League school read 50 college admission essays a day, six days a week during the application season. That's a lot of papers to slog through.

Now that it's summer, you've got time to write a great college essay. And to get your college admissions essay off to the right start, begin with a captivating opening line.

Want examples? Here are samples from winning college essays courtesy of Stanford University. These are opening lines of admissions essays that the Stanford admission reps especially liked. All of the essay writers were accepted as members of the class of 2012. You can find even more opening lines of sample admission essays in the Stanford Magazine.

10 Opening Lines from Stanford Admission Essays

  1. I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
  2. When I was in the eighth grade I couldn't read.
  3. While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
  4. I have old hands.
  5. I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle but I never got a response. This was the first time thoughts of death ever cross my mind.
  6. I almost didn't live through September 11th, 2001.
  7. The spaghetti burbled and slushed around the pan, and as I stirred it, the noises it gave off began to sound increasingly like bodily functions.
  8. I have been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old.
  9. I stand on the riverbank surveying this rippled range like some riparian cowboy -instead of chaps, I wear vinyl, thigh-high waders and a lasso of measuring tape and twine is slung over my arm.
  10. I had never seen anyone get so excited about mitochondria.
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.

Read More on CBS MoneyWatch:

What's Wrong With America's Dream Colleges?
The Best Colleges You've Never Heard Of
College admissions essay by Jeff Pearce. CC 2.0.

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