College Applications Essay

General Points as you Write Your College Application Essay

  1. Be brief, clear, and to the point.
  2. Give as many details as you can. The more connected the reader feels with your story, the more likely you are to make an impression!
  3. If you have been involved with any interesting research projects, be sure to mention them.
  4. Avoid all clichés about the subject.
  5. Either pick an unusual subject or pick one aspect of a subject so your essay doesn’t read like the standard ‘I love numbers ergo I like math’ essay.
  6. Before adding some sentences about a college’s specific department, do some Web research to find out if that department is strong. After all, you don’t want to say you look forward to studying engineering at a school that doesn’t even offer a major in engineering. That’s a major faux pas!
  7. Don’t forget to provide a header with your name, Social Security Number (xxx-xx-1234), date of birth, and high school name in the upper-right-hand corner.
  8. Spell-check and proofread. Twice.
  9. Eliminate almost every adjective and adverb—high school students tend to rely too much on these crutches. Notice how great writers rely on sharp descriptions and sparse dialogue, rather than on florid descriptions.
  10. Avoid the typical high school clichéd topics: the adventure travel essay, the community service “I helped save the world” essay, the “I dove and caught the ball and we won the game” essay, etc.
  11. Focus on one small incident and expand it into an essay.
  12. Be personal, not impersonal.
  13. Write in the first person.
  14. Avoid the weak connector, ‘and.’ Students love to use sentences like this one: ‘I studied all night for the test and I got an A,’ when they should be using a causal relationship: “Because I studied … I got an A.” Lose the ‘and.’ Proofread your essay. Have a friend look it over carefully as well.
  15. Don’t over-edit, or use thesaurus words—keep it simple. Those ten-thousand-dollar words always stand out like a jelly donut among the chocolate creams. ‘I read a plethora of books.’ Ick!!
  16. Don’t tackle a huge political or philosophical topic that you can’t possibly cover in a short essay.
  17. Avoid pretentious diction.
  18. Be as specific as you can when recounting events. Give the reader that you-are-there feeling—be vivid.
  19. Write about something that is meaningful and interesting to you. If it puts you to sleep, you can imagine what it’s doing to the admission officers!

Things to Consider:

  • Keep your topic/focus narrow. Eight-week summer travels across Europe cannot possibly be captured in a 500-word essay. Pick one incident or an interesting encounter that made you think hard about something.
  • Stress your own individual qualities. How are you different from other students?
  • Be unusual. Find the extraordinary in the ordinary, to paraphrase. Take an everyday incident and pick one aspect that was truly earth-shattering or meaningful for you.
  • Convey your curiosity. Be excited! Admission officers in the height of admissions season read for about six to eight hours a day (up to thirty files a day) for three to four months on end. They are tired, they are bored, and they are trying to get through the day’s reading. This is the time to stand out, not to blend in with the pack and put your audience to sleep.
  • Slice-of Life: Don’t try to fit your whole life into one short essay. Instead, focus on just one experience in your life and make it come alive. The best essays are ones that shed light on any factors in your background that have influenced what kind of person you are.