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Write a Great College Admissions Essay

Write a Great College Admissions Essay

Learn how to write a great college admissions essay.

By Mike Pugh

March 09, 2009

Don’t let the college admissions essay intimidate you. Remember, it’s the part of your application that is fully under your control. Make it work to your advantage!

Don’t recycle essays. Nothing will land your essay in the circular file faster than an obviously recycled or “near match” essay.

Be yourself. Choose a topic that is meaningful to you. Write in your own words. Write what you feel, not what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. “The essay is the candidate’s opportunity to explain to us who they are and why they are unique,” says Charlotte Lazor, associate director of admission information systems for Wesleyan University.

Don’t overextend. Don’t take on too big of a topic, and don’t adopt a preachy tone. College admission officers don’t want to be lectured on rainforest destruction. Instead, tell them how you became interested in environmentalism.

Be creative. Try to come up with something different. Remember that the people reviewing your essay have read hundreds — if not thousands — of essays. Don’t give them one more “The Teacher Who Influenced Me Most” or “Drinking and Driving is Bad” essay to wade through.

Captivate your audience. Your essay needs to be engaging and memorable. Try to draw the reader in with a quick, enticing introduction. You want to catch their interest and give them a reason to finish your essay.

Accentuate the positive. If you’re writing about a traumatic experience, describe the negatives but don’t dwell on them. Rather, explore how the experience changed you and what you took away from it.

Leave time for drafting. Write a first draft. Let it sit for a few days. Then review it carefully and look for weak or dull spots, as well as spelling and grammatical errors. Never let your first draft be your final draft.

Revise, rewrite, reword. Revision is the key to all good writing including college application essays. Hammer your draft into shape through various rewrites. Read each draft aloud. Your ears can pick up problems that your eyes may miss.

Ask for input. Teachers, counselors, friends, parents, siblings – ask people you respect for some candid feedback. “What do you think I’m trying to say?” “Does it sound confusing?” “Is it boring?” “Do I come across well?”

Pursue perfection. No essay needs to be error-free more than this one. Have your English teacher look it over. Quadruple-check the spelling. Type your essay carefully. Don’t let careless mistakes get between you and the school of your dreams.

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