Writing the Application Essay
One of the Most Important Steps to Getting into College
College hopefuls face a series of tests on the path toward higher education. Finances and credit are tested by budgeting challenges and financial aid pursuits. Admission to colleges and specific university programs requires aptitude and proficiency testing. SAT and ACT placement exams prove daunting for determined students with their sights set high on prestigious academic programs. And right when they are appreciated least, university admissions applications test students’ writing abilities with essay questions designed to expose candidates’ character and commitment. If this sounds like a nightmare to you, then you might want to review your spelling, grammar, punctuation, and basic rules of sentence structure.
Essay topics fall across a broad range of subjects that are not always what you’d expect from college admissions offices. Current events are fair game, as well as standard queries about education and life-changing experiences, but creative queries challenge applicants’ ability to think on their feet. Pop culture finds its way into some schools’ essay questions, as well as philosophy and applied logic. Be prepared for whatever your admissions office throws at you – study these useful tips.
Everyone is capable of filling- in the blanks on a college application, but college admissions essay questions pose unique challenges. The first step to essay success is to embrace the requirement as an opportunity to share details about yourself, rather than as a chore or obligation. Factual data only goes so far in explaining your academic past and plans for the future, so use the essay portion of your application to illustrate your goals and strengths.
The tone of your college entrance essay should be genuine and uniquely your own, but your approach must remain academic and professional. Play to your abilities, without being overly self-promotional. Avoid protracted references to your past accomplishments and accolades: Focus instead on providing thoughtful and relevant responses to the questions asked. A certain glimpse of your particular humanity is acceptable, but too casual a tone undermines the competent and studious image you are striving to project with your essay.
Crafting a memorable image for essay readers establishes your individual brand, and makes it easier for college administrators to see your value as a student.
Some colleges generously allow students to select their own admissions essay question subject areas. Selecting an Essay Topic can have distinct advantages over responding to a canned question. If you have a say in the topics you’ll tackle, choose comfortable subject matter that serves your strengths as a writer and student.
By design, entrance essays place your intellect on display for college admissions officials. Use the opportunity to craft a coherent essay that draws readers in and supports your ideas with logical points. By controlling the tone of the essay, you have the ability to paint whatever picture you want your reader to see. Use persuasive writing to make your essay case, but remember you are also selling yourself. Weave in genuine glimpses into your thought process throughout the article, so that readers walk away with a sense for your originality.
Proofreading, Rewriting, and Editing
Good pieces of writing don’t come easily. Spelling mistakes, bad sentence structure and garbled points of view stick out prominently in academic papers. Grammar and punctuation are not improvisational areas when writing admissions essays. Treat your essay like an employment application for the job of professional student, by putting your best foot forward in all areas that might come under scrutiny of college admissions offices.
Always spell-check your submissions and avoid slang or overly casual language. For help crafting a smoothly flowing piece that is structurally sound, refer to a reputable style guide, such as the MLA Style Manual or the Chicago Manual of Style; two widely recognized instructional sources.
Rewrite and revise, and then enlist proofreaders whose writing abilities and opinions you respect. A fresh perspective from reviewers who are less familiar with the material helps you determine whether your points are coming through clearly to your readers.
Colleges request essays of various lengths, so remain mindful of what your parameters are. Admissions officials do not view excessively long and wordy submissions favorably. Commonly, essays are required to contain a minimum of 250 words. If this is your assignment, the piece should probably run around 500 words or less. If you are in the eight and nine hundreds, you’ve gone too far and need to do some editing. In the end, your essay should be a concise composition that contains meaningful information about the topic at hand.
It almost goes without saying: The content of your essay must be 100% original – without exception. There is no “right” answer to your college admissions essay question, so “borrowing” or copying someone else’s work doesn’t make sense. Essay topics are designed to stimulate thoughtful and revealing responses, so that school officials can determine how you fit in on their campuses.
There is no better and quicker way to get rejected from the college application process than to use material in your essay that has been borrowed without permission or improperly cited. It’s plagiarism, and makes a strong negative statement about the character of the individual who cannot craft a genuine essay without cheating.
Some colleges pay search companies to look for plagiarism. Well known plagiarism prevention services used by academic institutions include TurnItInBot and Copyscape, which compare submitted student content with existing work. Don’t smudge your reputation at the dawn of your college career by stealing someone else’s work – duplicate content stands out, and will be detected.
Paid services exist that promise an “original” essay for $10. Obviously, the effort put forth for ten bucks is not one you want to share with college admissions officials. The whole point of the essay process is to promote candor and add humanity to your academic transcript. Don’t squander the opportunity with a sub-par cookie-cutter paper that frustrate readers, or makes no impression at all.
However, professional editing services might be of value to students applying for competitive programs. Education is highly specialized, so being an expert in your field does not necessarily mean you are also a great writer. If composition is not your strength, contract with a professional editor to hone your drafts. Well-conceived points that are not articulated properly undermine your college admissions essay, so editing services are worthy investments toward college acceptance.
The college admissions essay is seemingly the most daunting piece of the application. While filling in the blanks, gathering letters of recommendation and taking standardized tests can be time-consuming, the process is pretty straight-forward. Essays, on the other hand, aren’t so cut and dry.
They’re oftentimes open-ended with a prompt like: tell us about yourself or your achievements or an obstacle you’ve overcome. Others are a little more creative – or complicated, depending on your perspective. Schools like the University of Chicago are notorious for being imaginative with their essay prompts by allowing current students to come up with them. For example, one prompt this year reads: “What is square one, and can you actually go back to it?”
The formula is…there is no formula.
The essay is the component of the college application that allows for some freedom. There is no need to write a formulaic essay with an introduction, three-point body and conclusion. Rather, you can do with it what you want. You could even compile a video essay.
This is your opportunity to showcase your personality. What makes you who you are – was it a struggle in the past? The instrument that changed your life? Your first athletic practice or game? A person that you admire? Your desire to attend the school to which you are applying?
Grab their attention.
Once you’ve figured out a topic, start off your essay on the right foot. Admission officers read countless essays, and yours is sure to stand out with an attention-grabbing first sentence or paragraph. Start with a quote, a striking fact or an interesting story. Your options are endless…almost. Whatever you do, don’t start the essay with: “My name is ___________, and I really want to attend XYZ University. “
Stay within word limits.
The word limits for essay prompts exist for a reason: admission officers have thousands of applications to look over. They can’t devote an hour to each application reading lengthy essays. If there is a word limit, stick to it. If not, be courteous in the length of your response.
With that, don’t try to fit too much into the word limits. Read and reread your college admissions essay with a fine tooth comb. Ask whether or not every sentence, or every detail, is necessary to the point you’re trying to make.
Don’t regurgitate your resume.
Admission committees will have just read through your application; the last thing they want to do is read another form of your information, achievements and extracurricular involvement. The essay is a supplement and it should act as such. Use it to add to your application by showcasing another side of yourself.
In the event that there is something on your application that you do need to explain, your essay is the perfect place. If your transcript reflects a poor sophomore year – with improvement during your junior and senior years – talk about why you struggled that particular year.
Don’t be too formal – or too reliant on a Thesaurus. Use a conversational voice. After all, this component of the essay is all about your personality. Don’t try to impress the admissions committee with your knowledge or verbiage; impress them with who you are.
It’s ok if you’ve never experienced hardship. Don’t write about circumstances and embellish just to have a sad or serious essay. It’s ok to have fun with this. However, if you have had to struggle with an illness, loss of a loved one or other difficult experience, discuss how you have or are working to overcome it. What has it shown you about yourself?
If you need inspiration, check out this student’s admissions essay. It got him into Harvard, MIT, Yale, Columbia and the University of Virginia. It’s beautifully crafted, fun and reveals more about the student than an application ever could, which is exactly the goal of the college admissions essay.
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