The college essay(s) required of most college applications can be the most dreaded component of the entire process. Students struggle with ways in which to stand out from the crowd, face "writer's block" in an attempt to write the next great essay, and/or procrastinate with the writing process as they attend to the more pressing matters in their hectic lives.
Given that college admissions committees are charged with reading hundreds of student essays per year, it is important that essays be interesting, straightforward, and memorable. The following tips should help your essay stand out.
Genuineness---The college application essay is a wonderful opportunity to truly highlight the real you. Grades, GPA, standardized test scores, extracurricular involvement, honors, recommendations, etc. are ALL important, but essentially speak for themselves. The personal statement or college application essay affords you the opportunity to illustrate to college admissions officers your heart and soul and paints a living, breathing portrait of the unique individual you truly are. Essays that are sincere and illustrate a high level of self-awareness, clearly define your value system, and articulate your unique view of life are often the most memorable. Essays which simply reiterate your accomplishments usually fall flat.
Honesty/Integrity---Pay special attention to facts, figures, and statistics as they relate to you and to anything else you chose to write about! Don't attempt to impress readers with inaccurate or embellished statements. Make sure that you accurately represent yourself and be honest and forthright in your writing.
Self-Awareness---College admissions committee members are especially impressed by maturity, self-awareness, and insight as it relates to one's interpretation and appreciation for life on this earth. The topic one chooses is actually less important than the manner in which one highlights and defines one's personal life philosophy.
Creativity---Being creative in one's essay by describing sensory experiences in detail, discussing the past, present, and/or future, taking on multiple or unexpected roles, perspectives, or attitudes, telling a story, etc. will certainly grab the reader's attention! Many local Continuing Education programs offer College Application Essay Workshops at fairly low cost and can assist students with crafting great potential submissions. The summer following junior year is a great time to write essays without the demands of coursework.
Sincere Interest in a Particular College/University---Committees want very much to see that an applicant has a strong, genuine interest in a particular institution. Why? While statistics vary from college to college, in general, approximately 50% of all U.S. college students will NOT have graduated from a particular college/university in 6 years time! Retention rates are very important to higher education administrators. Just as in a job interview, enthusiasm and a basic knowledge of the institution cannot be overstated in terms of importance. Discussing your rationale for choosing a particular college and demonstrating enthusiasm illustrates to readers that you are very motivated to attend.
Basics of Good Writing---Essays should be free from typos and grammatical errors. While, NO ONE should write your essay, having a trusted mentor, family member, or teacher proofread your essay for typos and grammatical errors is a good idea! Due to the ubiquitous nature of the Common Application and the many required Supplemental Essays, students often "cut and paste" and unwittingly make errors with regard to college name, dates, or other pertinent information.
1) Be sarcastic! Humor is terrific IF you are excellent at it! Don't employ sarcasm/humor if you truly are not 100% certain of its intended impact. College admissions officers want to get to know who you are through this essay. Unless you are particularly gifted and adept, humor can be perceived as a veil in getting to know the REAL YOU.
2) Complain about your grades, poor test scores, or your "lot in life". While many good essays describe a challenging life event and what a student learned from it, be wary of being too negative in your writing. In addition, don't use the essay as a way to explain your lower than anticipated grades or test scores. Remember, committee members want to know the part of you that isn't represented in grades or scores.
3) Use vocabulary words which you wouldn't ordinarily employ or be too flowery, complicated, or pretentious in your writing. The goal is to clearly and sincerely afford admissions officers an opportunity to see a glimpse of your personality----the part that grades/scores don't show.