How to Write the Perfect College Admission Essay

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When applying for college, every aspect of your college application is important. However, a strong college admission essay is one of the most important elements of the application. Not only does this essay allow you to showcase your personality and other qualities you can bring to the school, but it is one of the final pieces of information that can influence admissions decisions. It’s also the only part of your application that is totally within your control.

While many other students will have similar GPAs to yours, or maybe even nearly identical transcripts or the same extracurricular activities as you have, the reality is that no one will have an essay like yours. But beyond helping you get in to school, a well-written college admission essay can help you get offered scholarships, grants and other financial aid that you may not have expected.

Investing the time to learn how to create a memorable essay can pay rich dividends, both in your admission to the school and your college financials, so it’s important to spend as much time as you need to get your essay right. So, if you want to impress the admissions committee at the schools you’re applying for, here’s how you can create the perfect admission essay.

Give Yourself Time

You may think you work better under pressure, but that isn’t always the case. Don’t wait until the last minute to start writing. There’s no reason to rush your essay, nor is there any reason to drag your feet on starting the process. Give yourself the time you need to write, revise, and revise some more. That’s how good work happens.

The reality is that you won’t score extra points with the admissions department for finishing your essay in an hour — nor will you churn out the best essay you can in that time frame. Unless you helped write the State of the Union, your admissions essay will likely be the most influential essay you’ve written so far, at least as it relates to your own life, so give yourself a realistic timeline to complete it.

In most cases, you should take at least a week to compose your essay. That time frame gives you enough time to rework any weak spots, revise your ideas so that they flow better, and lets you look it over time and again until you’re confident that it’s the best work you can put out.

Start With a Template

There are few things that feel as intimidating and insurmountable as a blank page when you’re writing. Luckily, there are templates that can give you a good starting point for your college admissions essay.

You can browse the Internet to find templates and sample essays to help your ideas begin to take shape. Templates can also give you an idea of how to create a solid college admission essay format, which can help streamline your ideas even more. For example, you may want to include a heading with the name and address of the person who will be receiving your letter — and a template could suggest little fixes like that for you to use.

That said, you shouldn’t rely on templates too heavily to get the job done. A template is an aid to your creativity, not to become a restriction or hindrance to your writing. Rather than following the exact template format, use the sample college admission essay template as a scaffolding to build your essay from the ground up.

College admissions officers see hundreds of essays every year, and you do yourself no favors if you adhere too closely to a template that they’ve seen time and again. Depart from the sample essay for college admission whenever you feel that it would improve your essay, and remember that creativity and ingenuity in your writing can do a lot more for you than a template can — if you spend enough time on your work to get the formula right.

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Consider each option (and brainstorm!)

Before you start writing your essay, you need to take the time to brainstorm some ideas. In most cases, the college or university you’re applying to will have given you a prompt or a choice of prompts to write about. Take your time to carefully consider each option.

If you feel drawn to a particular prompt, think about why it interests you and what you can do with it to stand out. Reflect on your life to find any personal anecdotes that work well with that prompt. If you can’t find any personal connection to it, you may want to heavily weigh the other options.

And, even if you can list a personal connection or two to the topic, you should still spend some time thinking about the other choices. Deeper reflection can help you find what would be best to write on, so don’t marry your first impulse. Use outlines, word clouds or free association to help you come up with material for each of the different prompts and then choose the one that best fits with what you can relate to. That’s how good essays are created.

Show Your Personality

Most of your application consists largely of measurable metrics, like grades and test scores, which are weighed against admissions requirements and the grades and scores of other students who apply.

Your application essay, on the other hand, allows you to showcase what makes you unique as both a student and a person. Don’t squander that opportunity; use it to your advantage instead. Your essay can help fill in the gaps and make you a more competitive candidate, but only if you get it right.

If you want to blow the socks off the admissions committee, use your own voice and your own stories to illustrate why you would be an asset to the school. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to mold your speech and your opinions to fit what you think they’re looking for. You need to use proper spelling and grammar, of course, but your college essay is a perfect place for creative metaphors, witty turns of phrase and humor if you can fit it into the topic at hand.

It’s also a great way to explain any hurdles you’ve faced or challenges you’ve met to help show your resilience and ability to overcome tough situations. Be real, be honest and be thoughtful about what you talk about and why. But whatever you do, don’t try to crack the code to the admissions committee. There isn’t a formula for figuring that out, and you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you spend time worrying about it.

Stay Away From the Thesaurus

You may think that using big words in your essay will work to your advantage, but that isn’t usually the case. In most situations, trying to use words in your essay that you wouldn’t use in your daily conversations can end up sounding awkward and forced.

Words have nuances to them, and simply inserting a word from the thesaurus into your essay is a great way to detract from your overall message. Plus, this type of thesaurus abuse is a trick that’s easy to spot, and seasoned admissions officers will see right through it.

If you feel that you’re overusing a particular word, try to think of alternatives without consulting a thesaurus. Natural language can work to your advantage when you’re writing, and using words that you’re familiar with will help you avoid misusing them. It’s a win-win.

Focus on Your Grammar and Spelling

Your college essay should reflect your authentic speaking voice, but that doesn’t mean you should write it like a lengthy text message. You need to avoid any major grammatical or spelling errors in your essay. This will showcase your attention to detail and the time and care you put into crafting your work.

After you’ve completed your essay, go over it with a fine-toothed comb to look for any technical errors. Make sure to also take the time to read your essay aloud. Certain phrases may sound fine in your head, but hearing them spoken can highlight awkward phrasing or unclear wording. If you spot some weaknesses in your writing or phrasing but can’t figure out the right wording or punctuation, you may want to rewrite it to avoid the thorny issue.

Once you’ve done your own thorough evaluation of your essay, you should also ask at least one other person to look it over, too. It’s easy to overlook your own mistakes, and a second set of eyes can be essential in pinpointing any issues or trouble spots.

Share a Personal Story

Sharing a personal story that’s relevant to the prompt is an excellent way to make your essay stand out from the crowd. You don’t have to pick a school-related story for your essay, either. College admissions boards care about who you are outside of school as well as your academic history.

That said, remember that your story exists to serve your prompt. Choose incidents that allowed you to learn and grow from them. Don’t be afraid to use a failure in your story, either. Colleges know that students are humans and that failure is a natural part of life.

Use Specific Examples

Writers are supposed to show, not tell. Simply asserting that you have what the university is looking for is not convincing.

Stating that you believe in integrity, for example, is an easy claim to make, but it’s much more useful to illustrate how you embody integrity. If you want to demonstrate your integrity, share a story that illustrates how you passed up an opportunity to exploit an advantage that was unfairly gained.

Claiming that you have good study habits is another empty claim that you may be tempted to make. Opt out of just claiming good study habits and detail the exact study habits that have helped you succeed in school instead. You can back up your claims with the GPA on your application, which carries much more weight.

Be Honest

Although you need to be creative while writing your essay, you should resist the urge to get creative with the facts.

Don’t exaggerate your own accomplishments to make yourself look better. You don’t need to lay out a long list of all your shortcomings, but acknowledging weaknesses and misjudgments can demonstrate authenticity and give your legitimate accomplishments greater credibility.

Admissions officers don’t expect you to be perfect, so don’t make your essay unbelievable by trying to pretend that you are.

Don’t Shy Away From a Rewrite

No matter how well-written your first draft is, there’s always room for improvement. After your initial draft is complete, put it away and let it sit for at least a day. With some time, you’ll be able to view your essay objectively and have better luck finding the flaws.

After polishing it up, let it sit again and then clean it up some more before showing it to your proofreaders. The best college admission essays will go through several drafts before they’re finished, so don’t be afraid to rewrite your essay as many times as needed.

Take a Break

If you’re starting to feel frustrated or overwhelmed by your essay, take a break and do something else instead. A short walk around your neighborhood can clear your mind and help you brainstorm new ideas. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, do something completely unrelated to your essay and forget about it for a while. If you try to work through the stress, you may end up producing subpar work.

Read Other Essays for Inspiration

Reading the essays written by other students who successfully got into the college of their choice is a good way to source inspiration for your own work. Look for common patterns in college admission essay samples, such as personal stories or a touch of humor. You might also find some good ideas for structuring your essay to give it a breath of fresh air.

Ask for College Essay Help

Asking someone with a good grasp of writing or college admissions to read your essay is one of the best ways to get useful feedback. Ask your proofreaders to specifically look for grammar and spelling errors or other obvious flaws.

Ask for suggestions on the content, too, such as areas that need more detail or places where you could cut down or revise your wording. Parents and teachers are good candidates for this task, but you can also make use of a college consultant with specialized knowledge of the admissions process.

Don’t Let Anyone Else Write It

Don’t give in to temptation and let someone else write your essay. Your essay is a unique reflection of who you are as a person. Your own words are the best to convey who you are as a student and a person. Using someone else’s words won’t give your essay an authentic voice.

And, if you’re caught letting someone else write your essay, you may be automatically disqualified from admission. That’s exactly the kind of college application help you don’t need.

In the sea of applicants, your college application essay gives you a chance to show why you deserve a coveted spot at your preferred college or university. Give yourself plenty of time, focus on the specific details of your life, and showcase your unique personality. A strong essay can give you the best chance to get into the school of your dreams, and focusing on creating one that speaks to who you are is the key to getting it right.

Additional Resources:

College Admissions Library
Do I Need a College Counselor?
Do I Need College Consulting?
How to Apply for College

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