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College Resources

The College Essay

The personal essay is typically the most daunting portion of the college application.  Beyond being time consuming, it often feels as though it’s the opportunity for applicants to reveal who they are beyond their numbers and test scores.  And that notion can seem overwhelming when you’re staring at a blank screen (and trying to fend off writer’s block).  Here are a few tips to help ensure that you craft a strong essay:

Be honest.

Don’t feel that you need to embellish or invent.  Admissions officers are pros when it comes to separating the genuine from the insincere.  It’s possible to write a compelling essay about delivering pizza and a completely mundane essay about volunteering in the Brazilian rain forest.  Trust that your life story and your unique view of the world are enough.

Don’t recycle or reiterate other parts of your application.

Your transcript already alerts people to the fact that you excelled in American history or that you nailed your SAT scores.  There’s no need to mention either again; it won’t make the achievement seem more impressive if you elaborate.  Beyond successful students, colleges are looking to create an incoming class that will complement their campuses.  Use this space to show the person behind the history buff or mathlete.  Ultimately, that will give your application more weight.

Avoid writing a novel.

Even if a school does not assign a maximum word count, that doesn’t mean you should write with wild abandon.  Admissions officers have to slog through thousands of essays.  They don’t have time to devote an hour to your 30 page masterpiece.  Remember, these essays are simply meant to be a snapshot of you.  You should not attempt to include your entire biography.  Stick to your chosen topic or theme and be concise.  After all – a good writer knows when to edit him/herself.  

Watch your tone!

Like it or not, schools use your essay to gauge your personality and character.  Therefore, you must carefully consider the language you use.  It’s okay to be colorful but you want to make sure it doesn’t come across as inappropriate or immature.  The same rule stands for attempts at humor.  Additionally, some essays ask you to discuss a personal accomplishment.  While it’s okay to show pride, you don’t want appear cocky or a braggart.  Conversely, you also don’t want to come across as a whiner or entitled.  That’s not the kind of individual students, alums or administrators want representing their schools.

Revise, revise, revise.

Don’t assume that your first draft will be your best draft.  Unless you continually edit as you write, you’re likely just getting your ideas out initially.  You need time to tweak your thoughts and arguments.  It’s important to make sure you’re writing a cohesive narrative; rambling onto tangents (even if they are fascinating) won’t earn you extra points.  Plus, it always helps to walk away for a bit and then return to your essay with fresh eyes and perhaps a fresh perspective.

Proofreading is not overrated.

Finally, we cannot stress this enough – make sure you proofread.  We realize that might sound obvious.  However, sometimes even the best essays are quickly undone by a few careless typos or grammatical errors.  You want to demonstrate diligence and pride in your work.  The easiest way to show that is by submitting a blunder-free essay.  While you should read it over (more than once), also consider having an outside party take a look.  He/she has more distance and thus is likely to find something you missed.

The college application essay is no cause for panic.  There’s no winning formula and no “correct” way of writing.  Admissions committees simply want to get a better understanding of each candidate.  And with a little sincerity, self-reflection and hard work, you’ll deliver what they’re looking for.



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Don Munce