College applications have opened up, which means that prospective students are finalizing their paperwork and editing their college essays in hopes of finding their perfect match.
While this can be a daunting task, it is rewarding nonetheless. Universities and colleges receive many applications a year. So, below are a few tips that could help you make your college essay shine. You will also find words of advice from Garrett Addison, one of Chapman University’s admission counselors.
1. Start preparing early.
While it’s easy to push off something as intimidating as the college essay, you’ll feel better if you take some time to look over the prompt that’s posted on the university’s website. This will allow you plenty of time to organize your thoughts and plan out what you want the admission officers to read.
2. Write about something that’s important to you.
The key to a successful college essay is writing about something important to you and telling a good story. If you’re not interested in the words on the page, the admission reader will be able to tell. Don’t write a story you think they want to read, instead inform them what you want them to know. Focus on your greatest passion, captivating the reader and making them remember you.
“Write about something you are really passionate about because your voice will come through much more in it. I have been reading essays for eight years; it is clear to me who is writing because they have to and who writes because they want to,” says Addison.
You’ll hear this over and over again in life, but being yourself is the best way to stand out. Be honest about what matters to you, and don’t be afraid to get personal. The college admissions committee wants to get to know you and see if you’re a good match for their campus.
3. Make sure to reflect in your essay.
You can introduce yourself in this essay, summarizing aspects of your life and why they’re important. But you also want to reflect upon your past and how that has shaped your present and future. It’s also important to emphasize how the college will help you achieve your personal or career goals. How will the major you picked influence your dreams? If you are undecided, focus on your passions and what you might like to pursue.
Some people might say that the best college essays share challenging experiences that may or may not have happy endings, but that’s not always the case. This essay is here to showcase your ambitions and how daily life has steered you in that direction. Whether you have experienced something difficult or not, it is up to you to determine if that experience has influenced your life.
“It doesn’t have to be super grandiose. Sometimes the story can be about a new passion they stumbled upon. I think students stay stuck in the mindset that it has to be better than everybody else’s story,” says Addison.
4. Answer all the questions being asked.
Sometimes it can be easy to get carried away with the story you’re trying to tell and forget to answer part of the question. But if you give yourself enough time to plan out your essay, this won’t be a problem!
Something to remember is that you shouldn’t just write about your resume or high school transcript. Admissions officers can learn more about that by looking at those documents, so don’t waste the word space on information they can get somewhere else. Additionally, because the essay should be relatively short, you want to be specific and keep it simple so you don’t ramble. Sometimes less is more.
The entire essay was about this deep passion for ketchup, and how they would eat ketchup with every single meal. They used it to pivot it into how they would have that same passion for their future school.
It can be fun to think outside the box to stand out. You can focus on whatever inspires you, whether that be something most people write about or not. But writing something that others focus on is probably not the best option anyway. Likewise, reading Common Application prompts to get inspiration isn’t the best option. College admissions officers have seen that before; they’re looking for something new. If you try too hard to fit your writing into a category, you might lose the piece’s authenticity.
“There is one essay that I consistently go back to, because it is in equal parts silly, but very true to who the student is. The first sentence was, “I love ketchup.” The entire essay was about this deep passion for ketchup, and how they would eat ketchup with every single meal. They used it to pivot it into how they would have that same passion for their future school. It’s also a really good example that it doesn’t have to be grandiose at all,” says Addison.
5. Write several drafts and check your grammar.
Sometimes the best way to write is to rewrite instead of simply editing. While this can sound like a hassle, it allows you to pick apart the best parts of each draft to create a stellar finished product.
Once you have fitted all the puzzle pieces, you can now focus on proofreading. While nothing is ever “perfect,” grammar and spelling must be as close to perfect as possible. The best way to catch all the minor mistakes is to read the essay aloud. This is also an excellent tactic to make sure that everything flows smoothly. If you’re getting stuck when you read it aloud, then maybe you should rephrase that sentence.
“Structure is important. I’ve read some essays that are one big block of text, which you don’t want to do. My biggest pet peeve is students not capitalizing the word ‘I’,” says Addison.
6. The more people who read your essay the better.
While no one else should write the essay for you, it’s essential to get feedback. Sometimes you don’t catch all the little mistakes or places that could be improved if you review your work. Having parents, friends or teachers/tutors read over your essay will help strengthen it. However, make sure that those assisting you are not adding their own words to your paper. Instead, allow them to advise you and offer suggestions.