Comprehensive college admission essay writing guide in 2023
College applications have a lot riding on them, and they promise to get you closer to your educational aspirations faster. The college admission essay, also known as the personal statement, is an important part of the application process. As a result, for the type of writing that will persuade university and college admissions officers that you’re a suitable fit, planning and organization are crucial. This survival guide will assist you in writing your way through the process with purpose, efficiency, and perhaps even a little enjoyment.
You’ve completed all of the admission essays and tests, and now it’s time to wow the admissions staff at your university with a stellar college application essay.
If you prefer to start with the negatives, see our blog post on How to Write a University Application Essay.
Some gurus advise students to create an outline for their essay before starting to write it.
Sara Newhouse, the senior consultant at Enrollment Research Associates and former vice president for admission and financial planning at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama, believes there is no one right way to do things
She explains, “Your college admission essay writing process is your own.” Students are encouraged to employ whatever method worked for them in the past while completing writing assignments for English and other high school classes, according to Newhouse.
An essay’s first draft does not have to be faultless. Doe advises, “Just do a brain dump.” “Don’t edit yourself; simply write everything down.
College Admission Essays
Read this college admision essay writing guide to avoid mistakes
If students are having trouble getting started, Doe proposes that they concentrate on their first statement. According to her, an essay’s first line, or hook, should pique the reader’s interest.
Doe provided an example of a strong hook from an essay written by a student with whom she worked:
“I got into politics when creamed corn was made illegal in the cafeteria.”
“I’m interested in learning more about this youngster,” she says. “I’m curious,” says the narrator.
However, Sawyer warns students not to get so focused on drafting the perfect hook that they overlook the rest of their essay. He also claims to have read some writings that were ultimately good, while having what he considers to be banal hooks.
Carefully read the college admission essay requirements and instructions.
It is said that the most difficult element of writing an essay is getting started. You might think it’s redundant to say that you should read the directions carefully, but with all of the excitement and stress that comes with this time in your life, it’s important to emphasize it.
If you don’t follow the college application essay criteria, the admissions officer might presume you won’t be able to follow the university’s program’s instructions. The word and page limits are there for a reason, and you must be able to structure your contribution by adhering to the regulations.
You can start drafting an outline to arrange your essay and select what message you want to express once you’ve read through the directions a few times and gathered your notes. You’re now ready to start writing your first draft.
Choosing a topic to write about is the first and often most difficult stage in the essay writing process.
On a college application, there are usually numerous essay prompts to choose from. According to Barron, they tend to be broad, open-ended inquiries that allow pupils to write about a variety of themes.
Mimi Doe, co-founder of Top Tier Admissions, a Massachusetts-based counseling firm, points out that the essay isn’t a comprehensive autobiography. “Putting your entire life into one essay is overwhelming,” she says.
Experts recommend that students restrict their topic and write about a specific experience, passion, or quirk that exposes something personal about them, such as how they think, what they value, or their strengths. Students can also write on something that relates to their personal history. Even a typical topic essay can be fascinating if done well.
A prevalent misperception is that students must discuss a noteworthy accomplishment in their essay. Admissions officials who talked with U.S. News cited essays about fly-fishing, a student’s travel to and from school, and a family’s dining room table as examples of outstanding essays.
Experts say the most crucial aspect of a college admission essay is that it is insightful and tells a tale that reveals who a student is as a person.
According to Ethan Sawyer, proprietor of the College Essay Guy website, which provides free and paid essay-writing materials, students will end up writing about themselves no matter what topic they choose. “What we think of as the issue is really a frame or a lens through which we’re looking at other elements of you.”
According to Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Connecticut-based college admissions advice organizations, winning Applications and Admissions Checkup, if students are having problems thinking about viable subjects, they might approach friends or family members for assistance. “What do you think differentiates me?” students can ask peers or family members, according to Wassink. “What are my peculiarities?” or “What are my peculiarities?”
According to experts, the essay should inform college admissions essay examiners of something they don’t already know. Students should make sure they’re writing about something that isn’t stated anywhere else in their application, such as in the activities section, or that they’re expanding on a topic that is mentioned elsewhere.
Begin your college application essay with a captivating introduction
Great college admission essay writing is difficult to achieve, but it is achievable if you plan ahead. Anyone who works in journalism will tell you that if you offer a strong introduction, you can capture the interest of any reader.
Because college admissions officers will only spend a few minutes reading your application essay, you must begin with a captivating paragraph that will keep them interested. The opening should inform the reader about the topic of your essay and grab their attention. You might begin with an anecdote or an amusing narrative that demonstrates some of the best aspects of your personality and character, providing an insight that will assist the admissions staff in getting to know you.
To do this, you need to listen to your inner self
Universities are searching for authenticity and quality of thought, so don’t try to structure your admission essay around terms or concepts that have been used many times before; instead, build it on your actual convictions.
The application essay is your chance to show an admissions committee how serious you are about your chosen subject and how much you already know about it. Make sure it reflects all of your abilities and desires, and that it demonstrates how your selected program will assist you in achieving your long-term objectives.
Stay away from clichés when writing college application essay
While researching your college application essay, you may find it helpful to look at some examples of excellent college admission essays to get ideas. While this is an excellent practice, many students are overly affected by the examples and use a lot of clichés in their attempt to impress the admissions officers.
Remember that you are competing with thousands of other students for a spot at your selected university, and you must stand out. Reread your college application essay, removing any clichéd words and attempting to come up with a new approach.
Admissions authorities review thousands of applications each year, so it’s only natural that those with a distinct personality will stand out. Allow them to discover it!
Give specific examples to back up your claims
A college application essay is essentially a window into your mind and perspective on the world. If you want your admission essay to appear trustworthy, make sure that everything you write supports your point of view. Spend some time determining how the college application essay question relates to your personal characteristics, and then write from that perspective.
That implies you don’t just assert a fact when you want to express a concept; you also offer particular information and examples to flesh out your views. You can achieve this by sharing personal anecdotes and writing about what actually motivates you and how you came to hold a particular belief.
Many of the prompts are similar, so look for terms and/or subjects that are comparable. This will assist you in determining whether a college application essay may be reused with some tailoring. On both the UC portal and the Common App, for example, “overcoming a personal or academic hurdle” occurs in somewhat different variants.
Question from UC Personal Insight:
“Explain the most significant issue you’ve encountered and the methods you’ve taken to overcome it.” What impact has this challenge had on your academic performance?”
The Common App version is as follows:
“The lessons we learn from our setbacks might be crucial to our long-term success.” Recount a period when you were confronted with a problem, a setback, or a failure. What effect did it have on you, and what did you learn from it?”
You must select a difficulty, explain its relevance, and describe how it has transformed you in both of these prompts. Because there is obvious overlap, reuse a college admission essay when possible—work efficiently—but alter your response as needed for each application that may request a slightly different view on the topic.
There are times when a college application essay or supplemental question is customized to a certain institution. Take, for example, the extra question from Northwestern University:
While other aspects of your application help us get a feel of who you are, we’d like to hear more about how you envision yourself interacting with the Northwestern community.
Help us understand how you might engage certain resources, opportunities, and/or communities here in 300 words or less. We’re interested in learning more about these details and how they might benefit you during your time at Northwestern and beyond.
Reuse is not an option in this circumstance. The university wants to know how you’re a good fit for them; admissions managers can tell when an applicant is trying to save time by giving a generic response. It’s important to dedicate time and attention to creating this very specialized style of college application essay if you want your application to stand out.
Stick to a well-defined college admission essay strategy
Although creativity is highly valued in writing, don’t believe that a creative admission essay isn’t also well-organized. Obviously, you don’t want to write a bunch of meaningless words, so limit yourself to one subject at a time.
Because you only have a limited number of words, the key is to avoid trying to include everything in your essay. Before you begin writing, make a plan, divide your college application essay into three sections (introduction, body, and conclusion), and decide on the primary points you want to convey.
Have your college application essay proofread by someone else
You want to prepare an excellent college application, so you’ll probably go through it, again and again, to make sure there are no typos, spelling, or punctuation mistakes. However, after a while, you may require a change of perspective. It’s ideal to have someone who hasn’t seen it before look at it because they’re more likely to spot mistakes you won’t.
If you ask a teacher or parent to proofread your college admission essay, they will be able to spot errors as well as determine whether the writing sounds like you. It’s difficult to know if what you just wrote is a true reflection of who you are after reading so many examples and following all those directions. Enlist the assistance of others to ensure that your article is flawless.
Make your college admission essays are more polished
Grammarly assists you in writing with confidence. You can use Grammarly in all your writing needs to edit all types of college and non-college work. You’ve begun your college application essay strategy, and now it’s time to focus on the essay portion. Create a spreadsheet-based calendar using Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to track application deadlines and describe or underline specific essay requirements. The number of essay responses necessary, minimum and maximum word counts, and notes informing you where extra responses are expected or optional may all be included in your spreadsheet for any given university. Make your college application essay stand out
Grammarly will not only help you spot any inadvertent grammar or spelling errors in your college application essays. Grammarly’s writing suggestions indicate when your sentences are unclear, assist in identifying stronger word choices, and detect when your tone is inconsistent, ensuring that your work appears polished. Grammarly enables you to write with confidence and from the heart in order to impress every college admissions committee.
Become acquainted with the terrain. The Common App is used by many schools to manage submissions. You can choose from seven pre-approved prompts, and then compose the same essay to send to many schools—definitely a time saver! Some colleges, however, do not use the Common App. The University of California (UC) system, for example, requires you to respond to four of the eight Personal Insight Questions. Other schools may ask for the essay you produced for the Common App, as well as additional college admission essays. A comprehensive college application writing plan that lists the many demands related to your desired institutions is your best bet for negotiating these. Again, preparation and organization are essential for success.
Showcase your abilities in your writing
Because the college admission essay is personal, consider topics that serve you to highlight your achievements and/or growth in a comprehensive way. Make a list of your personality traits and qualities that are relevant to your life experiences before you begin writing your essays. Consider how your personal history, identity, intersectionalities, and financial status shape your viewpoint and identity. In reality, this method provides you with rich, targeted content as well as a chance to empathize with your viewers.
TIP: In a college application essay you send to a specific university, avoid redundancy. For example, if you choose two prompts, one about overcoming hurdles and one about highlighting your leadership qualities, make sure the “leadership essay” doesn’t repeat the challenges you discussed in your prior college admission essay.
If you’re given the option of choosing your own topic for your college essay, think about questions that will disclose something distinctive about you, such as a certain quality or characteristic, and show why you’re a good candidate. The UC Personal Insight Question that follows is an example of the type of question you could ask yourself.
“Some students have a significant background, identity, interest, or talent that they believe would make their application incomplete without it. Please share your tale if this describes you.”
Take note of how the prompt emphasizes the applicant’s distinctive talents while also providing clear but non-restrictive options to choose from. There’s also an opportunity for you to demonstrate how your individuality benefits your candidacy.
TIP: Stay away from questions like “who are you?” or “what makes you enjoy literature?” Those are too broad because they make it harder to concentrate on your more distinct, particular characteristics and experiences
What is the ideal length for a college admission essay?
The average length of a college application essay is 500 words, and those words might spell the difference between acceptance and rejection. You’ll spend days researching and writing your essay, but admissions officers will only read it for a few minutes, so you need to grab their attention right away.
Despite the fact that the Common App – which students can submit to various universities – states that “there are no fixed word limits” for its major essay, it recommends a limit of 650 words.
“While we won’t stop reading after 650 words in most cases,” the Common App website adds, “we can’t guarantee that an extremely wordy essay will maintain our attention for as long as you’d planned.”
Institution-specific supplemental college admission essays are typically around 250 words long and have a much lower word count.
College admission essay editing and submission
While admissions officers use the essay to learn about students, they are also evaluating writing talents, so students should submit their best work.
“Rewriting is the greatest writing,” Sapp adds. “You should never hand over your initial draft to me.”
When examining the first draft of an essay, students should make sure their essay writing is showing rather than telling, according to Doe. This means that rather than simply declaring that they possess specific features or views, students should provide examples to their readers that demonstrate that they do.
Experts advise students to seek outside editing aid after they have finished editing their college admission essays. While there are individuals and businesses that provide paid college admission essay help ranging from proofreading to boot camps, students and families may not be able to afford the costs.
There may, however, be ways to reduce the expenditures. For example, Sawyer claims to provide low-income students scholarships that cover the cost of one-on-one essay counseling.
Free college admission essay advising services vary in terms of availability and quality of comments. Some college prep companies provide free brief sessions. Local high schools, public libraries, and community organizations may also provide free essay seminars. Khan Academy, a free online education platform, also has a series of videos and other resources to help students with essay writing.
Colleges may have tools as well, according to Barron, who points to pages on Hamilton’s website that provide writing techniques and samples of successful college admissions essays. Similarly, Hamilton hosts virtual panel discussions on admissions essay writing.
When it comes to essay assistance, students have different possibilities. They can seek assistance from classmates, professors, school counselors, and family members in polishing a college admission essay.
[READ: How to Revise a Failed College Admissions Essay.]
According to Newhouse, having multiple people review an essay at two stages is beneficial. The first step is all about the material. Readers should check for any information gaps or areas of confusion in the text. The second checking stage focuses on style, including grammar, punctuation, and spelling, once the material has been hammered down.
However, proofreaders should not alter the college application essay’s tone. “Don’t let your voice be edited out,” Doe warns.
While having someone else review your college admission essay is ok, having someone else edit it is not.
When a college application essay is finished, students usually submit it together with the rest of their college applications online. Students copy and paste their essay into a text field on the Common App, for example.
Sapp points out that, while students generally focus on the college admission essay, in particular, it isn’t the only factor considered by college admissions authorities. He explains, “The essay is the window, but the application is the house.” “Let’s not forget, an application is made up of several components.”
Now it’s time to get writing and create an outstanding college admission essay!
Make your college application essay stand out
Academized will not only help you spot any inadvertent grammar or spelling errors in your college application essays. Academized’s college admission essay writing services or suggestions indicate when your sentences are unclear, assist in identifying stronger word choices, and detect when your tone is inconsistent, ensuring that your work appears polished. This enables you to write with confidence and from the heart in order to impress every college admissions committee.
The original version of this article was published in January 2014. The last time it was updated was on 24th Jan of 2022.
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