The college application essay is probably one of the most important compositions you will ever write. Now, the question is that how important is the essay? Well, that depends on what kind of a student you are. You probably fall into one of the following three categories. If you’re the kind of student who’s in the 95% percentile on the SAT, your grade-point-average is a 4.0 and you have an impressive list of activities and leadership positions, then the essay might be slightly little less important for you. The college may already have made up their mind regarding your enrolment and all you can do in your essay is carry it off like a pro.
But most students fall into that grey area in the middle. If this is you, I want you to imagine that the person reading your essay will be comparing you to 99 other applicants who, on paper, have all the same qualifications as you; the same test scores, the same GPA, the same favourable teacher recommendations, maybe one or two extracurricular activities. Your essay is what will set you apart from the other 99. Let’s call this student XYZ. Her college essay is absolutely crucial to XYZ. It could very well determine whether or not she gets accepted. Or maybe you’re a lacklustre student with poor grades and no extracurricular activities. Let’s call this student PQR. The college or university usually admits a few students with weaker qualifications to give a break to students who stand out in some non-academic way, who look like they might really do something special if given the chance. XYZ might bring something interesting and valuable to the school. She might be a deep thinker who has made some mistakes or has had some bad luck, like family problems. Or maybe nearly all of the students at the university are the same –homogeneous– in some way, culturally, racially, economically– and XYZ would bring a perspective to class discussions and study groups that others won’t have. The university wants that, not out of generosity, but to create a lively intellectual environment where not everyone sees through the same cultural lens. So that could be XYZ’s chance.
You already know most of what you need to know. The concepts which you’ve already learned in your junior English classes about essay writing apply to your college application essay as well – brainstorm, organize effectively, write with personality and emotional commitment, use vivid word choices, and proofread your work for conventions errors. Sound familiar? And here’s the best single piece of advice I can give you: Start early, so that you can revise thoroughly and meaningfully. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, make yourself start early so you can write more than a single draft. If you think you “write best under pressure,” don’t kid yourself. Give yourself the time to do your best work. So, let’s talk about organization. You’ve probably written several essays for school. And your teacher, I would hope, will have talked to you about how to organize an essay. But if you, like XYZ were busy watching funny cat videos that day, let me refresh your memory. Begin with an attention-getting intro, or hook. The body of your essay will show the reader why you should be admitted. Don’t talk a lot about things already in your application. They already know those things and need a human face to put on your GPA, your SAT or ACT scores, your school activities, etc. Instead, the body of your essay should make clear that you are a real human being, not just some phony trying to tell them what they want to hear. And that if they give you the opportunity to get an education at their college or university, you’ll go out into the world after graduation and do meaningful things with it. Always remember that your conclusion should be concise and there shouldn’t be anything new included in the conclusion or something which would contradict what you’ve already took a stand about. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to directly say that you hope they’ll give you the opportunity to show them what you can do, or something like that.
Your essay, as I’ve said, is the human face on your application; the reader wants to get to know you, so convey personality and an awareness that you are communicating with another human being. One way to do this is to anticipate your reader’s questions and answer them. Also, it’s OK to use informal words and colloquial phrases so that you convey a sense of your personality.
Just remember: a little goes a long way.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to a higher education counsellor and when you have a draft, don’t be afraid to ask parents and teachers to read your essay and give you constructive feedback. But remember, no article, book, video, or school counsellor can write your essay for you without your contribution. I have been working with students on their applications for a long time now and trust me, I would not be able to create a single essay without knowing your life history, your personality, and your imagination.
So, I’ve given you eight tips:
1) Start early and don’t wait until the last minute.
2) Organize effectively.
3) Write with personality and emotional commitment.
4) Use specific, interesting word choices.
5) Check for conventions errors.
6) Read some good essays.
7) Read articles about college application essays.
8) Get some constructive criticism.
Follow those 8 tips and you’ll improve your odds of getting that acceptance letter.
I will write a whole other blog on essay organization, so consider reading that for more detailed information.