Although the college essay is just one of 6 elements in a college application, it has the power to raise you above all other applicants. There are some simple tips you can follow to write the best possible essay you can:
- Make a list of all the colleges you are applying to, and how many essays you need for each of them. Note down the exact essay questions, as well as the required word count.
- Go over the list, and see which essays could be repeated for other colleges. Keep in mind also the mindset of the college you are applying to, to see if the essay can be repeated there or if you will have to answer their essay question in a different way from the question posed by a different college. In some cases, even if you use the exact same essay for a different college, the essay may need to be shortened to meet a different word limit. In this way you can understand how many essays you really need to write.
- When writing the essay, the first thing to remember is that the college essay is personal. Even when the title doesn’t sound personal, it is meant to be personal. For instance, when an essay says “Tell us about a national, international or social issue that is important to you” the admission committee wants you to talk about an issue that has had a personal impact on your life. They do not want to hear about the corruption in Third World countries, or whether the president of Sudan should be tried for genocide or not (unless you are Sudanese). They want to know what makes you tick, and therefore they want to know what issue changed your life. So, if the corruption of HMOs led to the death of your grandfather, you can write about HMOs and how they impacted you and what you wish to do about it. Or, if your family has been torn apart by the tensions between India and Pakistan and the Kashmir issue, then you can write about that. Just remember to keep it personal.
- Try to be natural in your writing. The college essay sets you apart from all other applicants. Show the admissions committee why you are special; what variety of opinion, background and experiences can you bring into their vibrant mix. The right blend of passion, humor, sensitivity and intelligence is what will set your essay apart.
- Make sure to do the grammar and spell checks to catch obvious mistakes.
- Then make sure to read the essay from start to finish to remove additional mistakes. Remember the spell check feature in word processing software does not catch mistakes with words that actually exist in the dictionary. For instance, it will not catch ‘their’ when you meant ‘there’, or ‘our’ when you meant ‘are’. There are hundreds of similar examples, so it is essential that you read your essay from start to finish and remove such errors.
- Ask a teacher, preferably a creative writing, literature, or history one, or the college counselor, to edit the essay for you. You should, of course, make it grammatically perfect for him/her before you give it, but the teacher will help you see what the overall essay actually sounds like. Your teacher will point out the weak points, and show you ways to improve. The teacher will also tell you if you have answered the actual question asked or not. If the teacher knows you well, he/she may also show you things about yourself you have missed portraying in the essay.
- Do NOT let someone else write the essay for you. The college admissions committee has been doing their job for years, even decades. They can tell the difference between an essay written by a 17 or 18-yr-old and that written with the polish of a professional writer or adult.
- For further help with college admissions, check out my post on recommendation letters.