3 Steps To A Winning College Admissions Essay

College Essay Mad Libs

Here's what not to do. We said, THIS IS WHAT NOT TO DO.

So you’ve done all the research. You now know where you’re applying, your SAT scores are stellar, and your list of extracurriculars is a mile long. But how do you make yourself stand out amongst the thousands of other students all fighting for the same spot at your top choice school?

We know that writing a strong college essay is the best way to ensure that admissions officers see the student behind the numbers. So don’t hide who you are, and use these tips to make sure your true colors come through:

1. Choose a topic that is specific to you.

Students often make the mistake of choosing a topic that is too broad or overused. For example, a vague recollection of some sports-related memory or a generally clichéd observation on life lessons learned while volunteering at a homeless shelter. Ask yourself this: What is a story only I can tell? That’s the one they want to hear.

2. Have a trusted educator read a draft.

The pressures of applications can make students feel like they have to sound “smart,” but once the thesaurus comes out for those four-syllable zingers, your personality can easily disappear. “If it sounds like a Ph.D thesis, it’s probably not their voice, the voice we’re looking for,” says Parke Muthe, the associate dean of admissions at the University of Virginia. Having a teacher or guidance counselor you respect read a draft can ensure the words are truly yours.

3. Be concise.

Most essay requirements cap the word count at 500, so make every word purposeful. Cut anything that is superfluous or repetitive. Each sentence should reveal a little more information about you: the way you think, the way you act, and the way you see the world. That way, admissions officers can walk away from your essay with a sense of who you are and hopefully, remember you.  That said, going a bit over the word limit is not going to hurt your chances – and it might even help if those additional words convey a great deal more about you.

Another way of thinking about this is don't write for length. Your high school teachers often do you a disservice by assigning a paper as a "two page assignment." Think about the content first, not how long it needs to be. You want this piece of writing packed with specific, memorable content, rather than words just for words' sake. Revise and edit! This means writing a lot more than you think you have to, then cutting it down for the material that matters.

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